Closed Bridge Leaves Neighbors Feeling Stranded, Worried No Solution in Sight

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NICHOLSON - PennDOT shut down the Signal Hill Avenue bridge in Nicholson May 28th, when the agency found the bridge unsafe.

It's easy to see the deteriorating concrete as chunks have fallen to the side of the bridge that was built in 1926, and crosses railroad tracks.

But 89-year-old Frank Novitch gets worried when he sees the "Road Closed" signs on both sides of the bridge and the fences that block traffic from crossing.

"Instead of an ambulance coming up this here short distance, it had to run a four or five-mile difference,"  said Novitch

The detour actually adds 10.7 miles for people Frank`s neighborhood to get to the center of Nicholson.

A Nicholson Fire Department Lieutenant says it will take more precious minutes for emergency vehicles to Frank's neighborhood.

"Anywhere from 10 to 20 depending on which way we go, which way we have to come in," said Lt. Scott Aylesworth.

PennDOT mailed neighbors on the other side of the Station Hill Avenue bridge an alternate route to get around.

Some neighbors call it inconvenient.

Others have harsher words.

"It's treacherous," said tree trimmer Jay Scala who travels the detour every day.

The trip passes through four municipalities and two counties.

Scala can knock three miles off the trip with a dirt road shortcut.

But that adds wear and tear to his vehicles.

No matter what route he takes, the need for more gas eats into his company`s profit.

"Its going to be more than 100 dollars a week by far," said Scala.  "Just in getting from town to home anymore."

"It is one of those bridges that is very high on our priorities," counters
PennDOT Spokesman James May, who understands why neighbors are upset and want action.

But May says this 1951 court filing shows the bridge must be maintained by what is now Canadian-Pacific railroad, not PennDOT.

"If we start taking taxpayer dollars, and fixing what should have been maintained by a private company, you`ll be doing another story with us, asking why are you using taxpayer dollars fixing what a private railroad should have been doing," said May.

Canadian Pacific sent us a statement via email saying it " been working closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to resolve this matter. We are currently reviewing our files and records regarding the Station Hill Road bridge..."

"So in the meantime, the people are suffering," says Frank Novitch, who hopes the impasse is settled before winter, and the rural detour becomes a long, slippery road.

The best hope for a quick settlement could happen July 16th in Harrisburg.

The State Public Utilities Commission has the power to order PennDOT to repair the bridge, a solution PennDOT and Canadian Pacific say is possible.

But at present, there`s no guarantee the PUC will even take up the matter.