PennDOT may have temporarily halted its controversial plan to rehabilitate the historic Centre Avenue bridge, but that doesn’t mean the group formed to protect the local landmark is calling it quits.
During a public meeting Thursday, representatives from the Newtown Historic Association, The First National Bank and Trust Company of Newtown and the Newtown Creek Coalition updated the public on their effort to preserve the 200-year-old bridge.
PennDOT announced in February it planned to rehabilitate the Centre Avenue Bridge, which crosses the Newtown Creek. The stone arch bridge is the oldest in Bucks County and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The initial plan was to dismantle the bridge down to the arches and fill the interior with concrete. New concrete walls were to be veneered with sliced pieces of the existing stone.
However, that plan didn’t sit well with many in the community, including the Historic Association, Creek Coalition and First National Bank. The three organizations united and hired independent preservation specialist Mary Sue Boyle to assist in encouraging PennDOT to complete the repairs in a way that respects the bridge’s historic significance.
According to Mike Sellers of the Newtown Creek Coalition, PennDOT has not proven that the extent of work proposed actually needs to be done. He said while the group is not oppossed to repairs on the bridge, they should be completed in a way that restores its historical significance.
“We do not see the dire need for this project as they propose it,” Sellers said, adding the group had to file a Right-to-Know request to obtain the paperwork from PennDOT that explained the basis for the project.
Larry Fink, a Newtown resident involved with the effort to protect the bridge, said he looked over the documents from PennDOT and was not convinced. “The bridge in essence is totally safe,” he said.
Last month, representatives from the group approached local lawmakers seeking support for their effort. In response, Newtown Borough Council and the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors both agreed to send a letter to PennDOT supporting a historically appropriate approach to the bridge rehabilitation.
Shortly after, PennDOT announced it was removing the bridge from a list of projects going out to bid in April. According to PennDOT, the bridge is still slated for rehabilitation but there is currently no project timeline.
Sellers said it’s important to keep focused on the effort to protect the local landmark. Just because PennDOT has backed away for the time being doesn’t mean the rehabilitation won’t happen, he said.
Boyle, who was at Thursday’s meeting, said the group will continue to put pressure on PennDOT to do the project appropriately. She said the state has money to spend on transportation projects and “we want that money spent wisely and not at a detriment to our national heritage.”