The Berks County commissioners have agreed to make repairs to a pedestrian bridge on the Schuylkill River Trail.
The county-owned bridge carries the trail over the Schuylkill River just south of the Reading Area Community College campus.
The executive director of Schuylkill River Greenways told the commissioners in March that the structure was deteriorating and creating safety concerns.
Elaine Schaefer also offered to provide assistance for rehabilitating the bridge, saying her organization could apply for grants to help cover the cost of completing the work.
“Right now, the condition of the bridge needs to be improved,” she said at the March meeting. “We are coming to the county to see if the commissioners would support us doing some work there to make it safer and more inviting to users of the trail.”
Schaefer said the condition of the bridge has become an issue as the Greenways focuses its efforts on filling the gap in the trail between Reading and Hamburg.
She said there has been a lot of support from the city about connecting the trail, but its entrance to Reading should be welcoming to make it a valuable recreation destination.
Approaching from the south, pedestrians and bicyclists pass over an eyesore as they enter the city. The bridge is rusty and has developed sizable gaps in some spots where its sides meet its bottom.
The commissioners in March said they needed more information before they could support making a significant investment in the bridge.
They tasked Alan Piper, the transportation planner for the county, with investigating the bridge and coming up with short-term and long-term recommendations.
On Tuesday, Piper reported his findings to the board.
He said there are several issues that need to be addressed immediately:
• There are two holes in the bridge that need to be filled.
• There are number of handrails that have broken off, leaving sharp edges along the walkway.
• There are gaps between the edge of the trail and the steel supports of the bridge.
• There is vegetation growing on a secondary bridge that is creating further deterioration.
Piper said that since the county took over control of the bridge from Reading Area Community College about 15 years ago the responsibility for maintaining the structure had never been assigned to a single department. He recommended the commissioners make that assignment so potential improvements can be addressed in the future.
He suggested that once these immediate improvements are made the county should hire a firm to inspect the condition of the steel bridge and decide if it should be removed and replaced with a composite pedestrian bridge.
The commissioners voted to make all of the recommended improvements and move ahead with an inspection report. They also decided to assign the bridge to the facilities and operations department.
Commissioners Chairman Christian Leinbach said these improvements are badly needed.
“We need to act on these aspects right away,” he said. “The good news is that this is for pedestrian traffic not vehicular traffic, but nonetheless it has been 15 years without any improvements and I don’t know what kind of condition it was in when the county took it over.”
Leinbach said he believes the cost to make the improvements is a worthy investment.
“These are one-time costs to get these things corrected,” he said. “If we let this go and someone is injured, we could have a much more serious problem on our hands.”
Commissioner Michael Rivera said he agrees the matter is a safety issue.
“We should not wait to address these problems, especially now that spring is here and people will be using it,” he said. “And then we can work with Schuylkill River Greenways to see what the long-term plan would be.”
The exact price tag for the repairs remained undetermined.
Source: Berkshire mont