Q: I (and thousands of other folks) was glad to see your recent diagram of the future traffic patterns at the planned American Parkway Bridge. Could you post a similar map and explanation for the new North Catasauqua-Hokendauqua Bridge, also currently under construction? Images of the completed bridge and approaches would be appreciated by motorists who used the old bridge on a daily basis.
— Carroll R. Williams, Northampton
Q: Recently you referred to the Hokendauqua-North Catasauqua Bridge as 'the Hockey Bridge, as we once called it.' I just wanted to let you know we still call it the Hockey Bridge! Or we did, before the bridge was closed. Seriously though, many area residents are concerned about the Second and Eugene streets intersection on the North Catty side of the bridge. There appears to be no plan for a traffic signal or three-way stop signs at that intersection. Bridge traffic into North Catty routinely goes too fast, with numerous close calls. With the new alignment and smooth concrete replacing the old steel-grate surface, traffic volume and speed will increase. Can traffic controls be added?
— Dennis Yoo, Whitehall Township
A: There's some dispute about how to spell "Hockey Bridge," Dennis. You went with "Hokey," which I can't help but pronounce with a long "o," like the word Merriam-Webster defines as "obviously contrived; phony."
"Hockey" doesn't quite "look right" on paper, I must admit, probably because there's no "c" in Hokendauqua. But it still beats "Hokey," and hey, it's my column, so I took the liberty of "correcting" your spelling. But I better turn off this road before we run into "Catty" versus "Cattie."
The replacement of this structurally deficient bridge will shift the mystery over its steel-grate deck into neutral. Some motorists contend the grates were installed upside-down, or otherwise incorrectly, mostly because the sense of instability they experience while riding on the grates seems to exceed that of other grate bridges.
This jittery effect of shifting slightly from side to side does seem more pronounced than usual in the view through my windshield, but my investigation found no evidence of erroneous installation, and in fact, from what I gathered, the grates could not have been installed upside-down. I suppose it's impossible to categorically rule out any kind of error, but the cover page of owner's manual clearly reads "urban legend." In any event, a smooth new concrete deck will grace the new bridge, according to engineering project manager Tim Benner of McTish, Kunkle & Associates engineers of Allentown. Benner, incidentally, also doesn't believe the grates were installed incorrectly.
Actually, the Hokendauqua-North Catasauqua Bridge consists of three separate bridges (just as the former 15th Street Bridge in Allentown was made up of two distinct structures, though that was not necessarily evident to motorists passing over it). Heading eastbound in Hockey past Front Street, there's a bridge over the Ironton Rail Trail, then another small structure (a pony truss bridge) over a separate, former Norfolk Southern rail line, and finally the main bridge across the river.
The official name of the bridge on PennDOT's Transportation Improvement Program is Lehigh Street Tri-Bridges. Two bridges will replace the three when the work is done, if you count the small tunnel-like bridge beneath which the Ironton Rail Trail will pass, just to the west of the western end of the new span. Hikers and bikers will appreciate the lights in the tunnel.
Most of the traffic-pattern changes will be on the west side of the bridge, though your concern on the North Catty side will be addressed as well, Dennis, at least to some degree. A traffic study would be needed to determine whether the intersection meets the warrants for stop signs for Eugene Street traffic, and at this point, no new stop signs or traffic signals are planned on either side of the river as part of the bridge project.
However, the sight-distance to the left for Second Street motorists at the stop sign will be extended, Benner said. The southwest corner of the intersection will be pulled back by 12 feet, widening the intersection to improve the viewing angle, and obstructive trees and shrubs will be removed, he said. As with almost every dangerous traffic situation, it would help if bridge traffic would ease off the gas a little, too.
When it opens by the end of October 2014, according to plans, the new $12 million bridge will steer slightly to the south on the west side, as the map shows, to help accommodate the wider loop in place of the old design's dangerously tight, humped curve down to Water Street in Darktown — probably the biggest traffic improvement of the project. The main destination of this project is the replacement of the structurally deficient, 105-year-old bridge over the Lehigh, but the related improvements, though less dramatic than at the planned American Parkway Bridge, will benefit regular users.
Owned by Lehigh County, the existing bridge has stood for more than a century. "I'd say we got our money's worth out of it," county General Services Director Glenn Solt said last year.
The bridge will be demolished later this year, Benner said. Unfortunately, the use of explosives is not anticipated. We haven't had a dynamite (literally and figuratively) demolition job around here since PPL blew up a dormant 600-foot exhaust stack at its Martins Creek facility back in May 2009 — way up in Lower Mount Bethel Township. Nine months earlier, Essroc blasted a pair of 200-footers in Lower Nazareth Township. But the last explosive takedown of a structure more massive than an overgrown chimney was that of the ill-fated Corporate Plaza office building in Allentown on March 19, 1994. That was well before The Morning Call had a website, much less dramatic video of imploding buildings to display on it.
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