Charleroi bridge completion delayed again

Construction of the new Charleroi-Monessen Bridge missed its December deadline for completion, pushing its opening back six months. Photo:Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter

NORTH CHARLEROI – Construction has once again fallen behind schedule on the new Charleroi-Monessen Bridge, pushing back its opening by six months.

The state Department of Transportation said the contractor wasn’t able to complete the concrete deck on the span over the Monongahela by December, as planned, and has met with other obstacles that have pushed back the bridge’s opening to early July.

“The key thing is they want to do a quality project,” PennDOT spokeswoman Valerie Petersen said.

PennDOT closed the 105-year-old Charleroi-Monessen Bridge in February 2009 after structural problems were discovered in a pin joint on the Monessen side of the structure. Construction initially was expected to begin on a replacement that August, but demolition ended up being pushed back to May 2011 to allow time for mandatory negotiations with preservationists because the old bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That construction schedule called for the new $26 million bridge to be open in November.

Petersen said the bridge has become a “problem child” due to a number of unexpected issues that have continued to push back its completion.

PennDOT was met with delays with utility companies that needed to remove lines from the old bridge before it could be imploded. Then, additional surveys were required before an agreement was reached with CSX on the removal of a section of the deck that traveled over railroad tracks in Monessen.

High water on the Mon last winter repeatedly flooded a cofferdam in the water needed to pour a bridge pier. Meanwhile, the contractor decided this winter it would be best to pour concrete for the deck under optimum conditions rather than use a method that would have heated up the forms.

One of the big problems included unexpected deterioration on a pier built on land in North Charleroi in the 1980s that was supposed to be reused. Inspections determined it would be best to construct a new pier there, Petersen said.

“That was the key thing that slowed us down,” she said.

She said it was too early to say whether or not PennDOT will penalize the contractor, Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum, for the changes in the construction schedules.

Charleroi Mayor Nancy Ellis said borough merchants have lost business because of the closed bridge.

“It has created a hardship,” Ellis said. “People are going to Belle Vernon rather than coming to Charleroi because it’s an inconvenience.”