Burlington County freeholders set to vote on demolition of Centerton Road bridge

The report comes after the Burlington County Times sought it through the state's Open Public Records Act to explain the abrupt closure of the bridge over the Rancocas Creek that connects Westampton and Willingboro to Mount Laurel.

Those requests led to the county detailing for the first time last month that the 112-year-old span was closed because it was separating from its vertical support. 

On Tuesday, the county produced an inspection report that supports its decision to close the bridge, and may lead to its demolition. The Board of Freeholders is set to vote on the demolition at Wednesday's meeting at the administration building in Mount Holly. 

Based on the 50-plus page Aug. 11 inspection report conducted by Mount Laurel engineering firm Taylor Wiseman & Taylor, the bridge was closed because of "severe corrosion" and "100 percent web section loss at multiple locations" in 84 steel stringers, or parallel support beams.

The deterioration "led to deflection of the deck under live load, which prompted closing of the bridge," the report reads. Freeholder Aimee Belgard, in a BCT editorial board meeting, said the freeholders were told the bridge was "teetering" when the county closed it. 

The report also outlines other "deficiencies and substandard features" found when the inspection was conducted in May, the month after the bridge closed. 

Taylor Wiseman & Taylor recommended that the bridge remain closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and county Engineer Joseph Brickley supported the recommendation. 

The report was provided to the BCT in response to the paper's OPRA request sent on Nov. 2.

The county responded Nov. 17 with scores of documents, including any and all correspondence on the bridge's closure from Jan. 1 to Nov. 2. The report was included in the response, but was unable to be opened. The county was immediately notified of the issue, but a paper copy was not provided to the BCT until Tuesday.

In a memo dated Nov. 17 and sent to the BCT last month as part of the Nov. 2 OPRA request, Brickley summarized what was found that forced officials to shut the bridge down.

The span was abruptly closed when county workers installing equipment to track its daily use found it was separating from the abutments, he said in the memo. 

"It was while installing this equipment that my staff, and ultimately I myself, visually observed not only the deterioration noted in previous NJDOT inspections but also that the bridge was now moving away from its abutment," Brickley wrote.

Although bridge rehabilitation is possible, it's $10.9 million the county wants to avoid spending to repair what officials call a redundant, substandard bridge.

The freeholders delayed their decision to move forward with the demolition in September, when area residents called for a community forum to allow public input before a decision is made on the bridge's future.

The county presented the public with four options, including a $21 million replacement plan that includes $1.3 million for the demolition. 

Because of the subpar condition of the bridge, Brickley said in his memo that he "could not, in good faith, recommend that the existing bridge be rehabilitated."

He recommended, and the county freeholders agreed, that the structure be demolished and a high-level, unmovable bridge be built in its place.

But the question regarding the county's quest for $21 million in funding to build a replacement remains a concern. 

According to county spokesman Eric Arpert, the freeholders will vote Wednesday on the bridge's demolition, "with the addition of language that will codify our continued efforts to find funding for replacement of the bridge."

Even if the freeholders approve the demolition and obtain state funding for a replacement, it could be years before a new bridge is constructed.

The freeholders will meet at 7 p.m. in the county administration building at 49 Rancocas Road.

[Original Article]