When DEP Northeast Regional Office Waterways and Wetlands Program Manager Joe Buczynski and Engineer Mike Sames saw the condition of the old Coxton Railroad Bridge in the Spring of 2013, they knew the 900-foot long bridge over the Susquehanna River in Luzerne County was a potential threat to citizens.
Two of the stone masonry bridge piers were deteriorating to the point that the middle sections were held up by only a few blocks of stone. With the flow of the river and rising waters, flood debris could further damage the piers by forcing a collapse of the steel bridge trusses into the water. Both Buczynski and Sames knew that meant an obstruction could occur and potential flooding would threaten the safety of residents and properties in low-lying areas of the county.
“The bridge piers were severely deteriorated, and it is likely they would have continued to deteriorate with future flood events,” said Buczynski.
So began a three-year journey by DEP’s Senior Civil Engineer Chris Kulick to monitor the condition of the bridge. That included weekly inspections during a large ice jam and during heavy rains, both of which continued to knock more stone blocks into the water.
Those three years also included a campaign by DEP to have the bridge fixed or torn down. DEP issued orders, but the private owner had no money to do any work. The waiting and watching continued.
“DEP has been monitoring the condition of the bridge before and after flooding events for years, while facilitating a local solution to demolish the structure,” said Buczynski.
Finally, in 2016, Buczynski convinced the Luzerne County Re-Development Authority (LCRDA) to take over ownership of the bridge and apply for Community Development Block Grant money to tear it down. The plan was successful, and in 2017, the LCRDA received a $1 million grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and work began.
“The previous owners, DCED, and both the Luzerne County Flood Protection and Redevelopment Authorities worked together to secure the funding to remove the bridge.”
On Tuesday, October 11, the first steel section of the bridge fell into the water. But it wasn’t a collapse. A private contractor used an excavator with a hydraulic shear to cut the steel that was pinned to the trusses and drop it into the river. It was part of what Buczynski and DEP had been advocating for: demolition of a dangerous structure.
“DEP sees this as an example of how local and state governments can work together to solve local problems when there is no one else who can,” says Buczynski.
Government that works: dangerous structure gone, no threat of flooding, lives and properties protected.