This bridge, with its beautiful and unique portal, may have been the only existing example of its kind remaining in Pennsylvania and beyond. HistoricBridges.org is certainly not aware of any other bridge with the portal details of this bridge. Given this unique portal and other unusual details, this bridge should have been considered to have a high level of historic value and given a very high preservation priority.
The bridge is a very beautiful truss bridge, and is one of the less common types of truss bridge in which the v-lacing of the bridge's built-up verticals faces the road, rather than the ends of the bridge. What is most unusual and decorative about this bridge is the portal bracing. The knee bracing of the portal is formed from curved, cast iron pieces with decorations cast in them. These are mounted below a simple lattice beam that together creates the portal bracing. The knee braces have interesting designs on them, and they are not the same from left to right on each portal brace. On each end, the left hand side is an ornate, attractive flowery pattern. The right side displays an overlaid logo of MBC, which stands for Morse Bridge Company. This logo was used on the floor beam caps for another bridge built by the company.
A website visitor contacted HistoricBridges.org and stated that the Historic Bridge Inventory's discussion of the surrounding area below was incorrect and that Conneaut Lake is not a manmade lake. Conneaut Lake is a glacial kettle lake (not man-made). Both the marsh and the lake are a result of the Glacial activity.
On many pages for bridges in Pennsylvania on this website a discussion is present about how many historic bridges are being demolished in Pennsylvania and how few are being preserved, despite preservation alternatives. However, the goal
has not been simply to complain about PennDOT and its lack of preservation. The hope has been to have a positive dialog with PennDOT and other agencies in Pennsylvania to find a way to meet the transportation needs of the Commonwealth in a
fiscally responsible manner while at the same time not decimating our nation's transportation heritage. It was in that spirit that HistoricBridges.org requested and was accepted as a consulting party for the Section 106 Historic Review
process that was triggered when PennDOT suggested replacing the Mercer Pike Bridge. The Section 106 Review process is intended to consider feasible and prudent alternatives to avoid harming the historic bridge. If harm is found to be
unavoidable, than the "adverse effect" should be minimized and mitigated. HistoricBridges.org as well as other consulting parties reviewed the needs for the Mercer Pike Crossing as well as the condition of the bridge and agreed that a good
solution would be to replace the bridge, but to carefully dismantle the Mercer Pike Bridge, which would be rehabilitated and reused on a more quiet rural road that would be better suited to the bridge's dimensions and load-carrying
capacity. PennDOT said it agreed with this idea and would move forward with that solution. This outstanding solution, which has been done in other states like Michigan, was unprecedented in Pennsylvania. It was the opinion of
HistoricBridges.org that this outcome was an outstanding compromise that would preserve a historic bridge, while allowing for unrestricted traffic on Mercer Pike provided by a new bridge. That was until HistoricBridges.org saw photos taken
showing the bridge after it was "dismantled."
These photos showed that the contractor had been allowed to essentially take a cutting torch and go absolutely crazy on the bridge. Those huge nuts right in the face of the contractors that could have been unscrewed from the pins to easily dismantle the bridge? Completely ignored. Instead, if it could be cut with a cutting torch, the contractor cut it. By the time the contractor was done, all the eyebars had each of their heads cut off. The pin plates were all cut in half. The sway bracing struts were cut from the trusses. The lateral bracing was cut off. The bridge was essentially reduced to a pile of cut up beams. Not that it mattered at this point, but it was not apparently that the members had been tagged with part numbers to identify where each piece should go. This is not how a pin-connected truss bridge is dismantled. While it would not be impossible to reassemble the bridge in this condition it would be difficult, costly, and time consuming, and would result in members and eyebars that were originally one single piece instead being several separate pieces welded together. Alternatively, the cut parts could be replaced. That might be fine for a few members. But since the contractor literally cut apart every single member on the bridge, you would end up replacing every single part of the bridge, and the bridge would no longer have historic value. Long story short, the bridge was essentially destroyed through this incorrectly executed dismantling process.
How should a pin-connected truss bridge be dismantled for preservation? It is ridiculously simple. After either putting falsework up under the bridge, or picking it from its abutments and placing it on the ground, you carefully heat the nuts on the pin connections. Heat causes metal to expand. The heat causes the nut to expand. Thus, if the nut is rusted or frozen on the pin it will come loose. Then, you take a wrench and unscrew the nut from the pin. Once this is done, the pin can be driven out with a hammer. Repeat for all connections. Sometimes the bracing may be attached with bolts or rivets. These can be removed individually as well without the use of the cutting torch. With all the pins driven out, you will find you have the entire truss web separated into the individual members. Absolutely no cutting of the metal would be needed. This is the normal, sensible way to dismantle a truss bridge.
It does not matter whether the contractor was inexperienced with dismantling a truss bridge or not. PennDOT had a responsibility to either find a contractor with the experience or to at least have an inspector on site making sure that the contractor did not destroy the bridge. PennDOT failed in that responsibility. Another major problem that HistoricBridges.org identified is that PennDOT wrote up the contract stating that a significant number of the truss members would not be used and would be replaced when the historic bridge was rehabilitated. These statements in the contract likely encouraged the contractor to not pay due attention to carefully removing those parts, if the contractor had been told those parts would not be used anyway. During Section 106, the Consulting Party was not made aware that this language would be in the contract, nor that so many members were planned to be replaced by PennDOT. Many of these members in fact would not have needed to be replaced and could have been repaired instead, however the Consulting Parties were never given an opportunity to examine and comment on the exact scope of work for the rehabilitation of the historic bridge, which is yet another problem with this project. HistoricBridges.org could easily have provided PennDOT with the repair procedures needed to repair the members PennDOT thought needed replacement.
The Mercer Pike Bridge could have been a rare and exciting success story for PennDOT, something everyone could be be proud of. HistoricBridges.org would have had nothing but high praise for PennDOT had they done this correctly. Instead, PennDOT only showed that even when you think preservation might just be about to become reality in Pennsylvania, you find yourself kicked in the face and back to square one, where it seems like the only thing Pennsylvania and Preservation have in common is the same first letter. PennDOT has always made it difficult to try to work together to find solutions for historic bridges. Their idea of a Section 106 Alternatives Analysis is a "Rehabilitation Feasibility Analysis" where the only alternative considered is whether the bridge can be rehabilitated for full legal loads and meet all AASHTO guidelines. Other alternatives, like a one-way couplet of bridges, bypassing the bridge and preserving for pedestrian use, etc, are not part of the standard procedure PennDOT follows in considering Section 106 Alternatives. The way PennDOT makes it so difficult, one cannot help but have a cynical thought. Was the Mercer Pike Bridge dismantled in such a destructive way on purpose so as to avoid preservation? Perhaps that is an unfair and inappropriate thought. More fair and likely true is that PennDOT has preserved so few metal truss bridges that it actually had no idea how to properly dismantle a historic truss bridge. In either case, even the inexperienced should know enough to avoid cutting the bridge apart. PennDOT should have asked the consulting parties how to properly dismantle a truss bridge if they were so unsure. Had HistoricBridges.org been aware that PennDOT was inexperienced with the concept of unscrewing a nut from a threaded pin, the information would have been happily provided to PennDOT. After all, that is the intended purpose of a consulting party in Section 106: to provide useful and valuable input that helps move the Section 106 process forward in a good faith manner.
What is so depressing about this story is that the Mercer Pike Bridge was an exceedingly unique and rare bridge, and PennDOT seemed to come so close to turning a new page and finding a way to preserve the bridge. To be so close to a positive outcome and have it end like this is absolutely devastating for the consulting parties who had thought they had helped contribute toward saving a historic bridge.
Information and Findings From Pennsylvania's Historic Bridge Inventory
Discussion of Bridge
The single-span, 83'-long and 17' wide, pin-connected, Pratt through truss bridge built in 1888 is supported on concrete abutments that were reportedly rebuilt in 1938 and 1944. The solid web portal braces has an "MBC" cypher in them, but research failed to identify the name of the fabricator. The floor beams have been replaced, and there are minor repairs to the truss members, but otherwise the bridge appears to be complete and a historically and technologically significant example of the important technology. The fabricator may be identified at some point.
Discussion of Surrounding Area
The bridge carries a single-lane road over the Conneaut Outlet Creek, also locally called the Geneva Marsh in a waterfowl management area. The creek drains the manmade Conneaut Lake, a major water feature of the area, into French Creek. The Lake was created as a public works project in 1932 when the Conneaut Marsh was dammed. The bridge at the inlet to the lake (BMS no. 20001901100000) has been determined by PHMC as not eligible.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes
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