McDowell Lane Bridge plans revealed

February 16, 2017
Debra Valentino, chair of the Canonsburg Lake Restoration and Improvement Committee, discusses bridge plans with Rich Kauffman of SAI Consulting Engineers. - Rick Shrum/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Two bridges, a bald eagle and a lengthy detour were focal points at the North Strabane Township building Thursday evening.

Plans for the McDowell Lane Bridge replacement project were unveiled at a public open house, which followed an informational meeting for public officials. Large project renderings were displayed and informational handouts were available.

The current span, crossing Canonsburg Lake and linking North Strabane and Peters Township, is 74 years old, deteriorating and awaiting the wrecking ball. It will give way to a wider, longer, stronger and more durable structure, according to the project manager, Bill Ferko of Pittsburgh-based SAI Consulting Engineers, the design team.

The estimated $3 million project is going to take awhile, though, as construction isn’t targeted to begin until early 2019. Preliminary design is nearly complete, with final design expected to start next month. SAI anticipates the extensive bidding process to take place in 2018.

Workers will demolish the existing span, a concrete, thru-girder structure, in probably the first quarter of 2019. The structure has a 15-ton weight limit and, according to Ferko, allows “one car to cross usually.”

Alcoa, which once owned the lake, built the bridge and nearby dam during World War II. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission now owns the lake; Washington County owns the bridge; Peters and North Strabane share ownership of McDowell Lane.

As soon as remnants of that span are gone, “we’ll start building the new bridge immediately,” Ferko said. “We anticipate completing that in one construction season,” estimating that to be six to seven months.

The new bridge will be made of CORE-TEN — or weathering — steel, which, over time, produces a protective layer of corrosion. “It will be able to handle any weight,” Ferko said.

The replacement will be made up of two spans totaling 164 feet in length and 33 feet in width – 24 feet longer and 13 feet wider than the original.

While designing the project, SAI authorized a traffic study that showed about 2,700 vehicles use the bridge daily. “We projected 3,000 for our design,” he said, adding that a 25-mph limit will remain. Crossing by foot also will be an option.

Ferko said there will be no residential or business displacements during construction, and that project managers are working with the Fish and Boat Commission so as to minimize the impact on a bald eagle nesting nearby.

Not having a bridge for six months, of course, means a six-month detour. And that may not please devotees of Little Lake Theatre and the Mad Mex Lakeside restaurant, and local residents. The detour is 4.5 miles — from the east entrance of the bridge; right onto Route 19 south; right onto McClelland Road; right onto McDowell.

“Anytime there’s a detour, there’s an inconvenience,” Ferko said. “We understand convenience, but there’s a greater need for safety on this bridge.”

The open house was a full house, with a large crowd poring over the renderings and asking questions of Ferko, his SAI staff and public officials, such as Vince Ley and Lisa Cessna of the county Planning Commission. The county organized the meeting along with the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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