This impressive viaduct structure carries a highway over a variety of features including a city street, railroad lines, and the Little Conemaugh River. With its variety of span types, sizes, and designs, it demonstrates how during this period in history, different structure types and span lengths would be constructed to accommodate the various obstacles to be crossed. This is still done today, but not to this great of an extent in modern construction. The highlight of the structure is the eleven panel Parker through truss span. Among the additional spans are through and deck plate girder spans as well. There also is a dirt approach at the northwestern end that is contained within concrete retaining walls, and finished with concrete balustrade railings. Original plans for the bridge show that the entire bridge once had these concrete balustrade railings on the sidewalks, although today only the approaches retain the balustrades. Originally, the dirt approaches had a brick roadway, while the bridge itself had what the original plans show to be wood blocks. The piers for the bridge include steel bents and also some piers that consist of stone from a previous bridge that are framed in concrete that was added when this bridge was built. The north abutment also includes some concrete from a previous bridge as well.
Metal portions on the bridge were fabricated by Bethlehem Steel, and fabricator plaques remain on the bridge.
The fate of this bridge is one of the most depressing that could be imagined, because it came so close to being rehabilitated and perhaps signaling a change in PennDOT policy for the better, yet at the last minute was put up for the cookie cutter "tear the historic bridge down and replace with an ugly slab of concrete" type project. HistoricBridges.org has spent years calling attention to the fact that PennDOT repeatedly has chosen to demolish beautiful historic truss bridges and replace them with ugly modern bridges when it is clear that a rehabilitation is feasible. HistoricBridges.org has also attempted to call attention to the fact that Pennsylvania's Historic Bridge Inventory is out of date and does not reflect current bridge populations and trends in Pennsylvania. Bridges such as the Strank Bridge which were written off as common technology are no longer common and should be considered historic.
For once, with the Strank Bridge, it at first seemed like PennDOT might be having a change of heart and choosing to commit to preservation and sustainability. Despite the fact that the bridge was listed as not historic in the Historic Bridge Inventory, PennDOT had decided to rehabilitate this beautiful bridge so that this unique structure could continue to function as an attractive crossing for the area. PennDOT recognized that despite low National Bridge Inventory ratings, and despite problems with the bridge, in particular with the substructure of the bridge, that these issues could nevertheless be repaired for a reasonable cost. PennDOT therefore spent the time and money to generate a complete set of rehabilitation plans that outlined a comprehensive rehabilitation of this historic bridge. PennDOT had apparently even included the rehabilitation in a bid letting. The future of this historic bridge was looking bright. HistoricBridges.org was looking forward to featuring this bridge as a PennDOT success story, and offer hope for the future of Pennsylvania's historic bridges.
However, a company called Brayman Construction had a different vision. Their vision was one of an ugly slab of concrete in place of the historic bridge, and perhaps higher company profits alongside less effort on their part as well. They apparently saw the proposed preservation project in PennDOT's bid letting. Bent on bringing an end to this project to preserve a beautiful bridge, they made use of a PennDOT policy that allows a company to offer a counterproposal to a proposed project if they can provide an acceptable argument that the counterproposal represents an improvement over the proposed project.
As such, Brayman Construction generated a counterproposal to demolish the historic bridge and replace it with an ugly slab of steel and concrete, at greater cost to taxpayers. Their core argument was that the historic bridge was "near the end of its useful life" which is a questionable statement, and that over the long run, a replacement bridge would cost taxpayers less money than the rehabilitation, despite the fact that the potential life of modern bridge designs have never been proven because bridges built with modern techniques have not been around long enough to prove their long-term durability yet. The only thing that has been proven so far is that an unusually high number of bridges built after 1950 are requiring replacement after less than 60 years of service.
Brayman Construction used typical techniques to shoot down the rehabilitation project and support their ugly replacement slab of concrete. Among these techniques were an evaluation of the inflation rate. This so-called logic technique makes an argument that essentially says that at some point in the future the rehabilitated bridge will either need to rehabilitated again or replaced, and at that time the project is going to be more expensive than a replacement project would be today, because of inflation. As such, why not simply build a new bridge now? However, this argument fails to acknowledge the fact that even a replacement bridge will eventually have to be replaced, even if in the more distant future, and at that time inflation will be even more higher. Under their flawed logic, we might as well demolish and replace every bridge in the country right now whether it needs it or not, because the inflation rate is lower today. The reality is that inflation is a fact of life. Whether a project is needed 20 years from now or 100 years from now, it is likely that inflation will have made the project more expensive. If inflation is such a big concern, than the United States should address the inflation problem directly, rather than taking it out on innocent historic bridges.
Other typical pro-demolition talking points were made, such as comments about the fracture critical nature of the historic bridge. Fracture critical is often an argument made to push the demolition of a historic bridge. Fracture critical is the theory that if a single member of a bridge fails, there is risk for the failure of the entire bridge. However, fracture critical should not be used as an excuse to waste money and destroy heritage, it should instead be a reason to end this nation's wasteful habit of deferring maintenance of bridges and letting them deterioration, and instead engage in routine bridge maintenance and inspection. Many bridges deemed to be priceless to the United States have fracture critical members, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, however it is doubtful that these bridges will be demolished and replaced with a structure that is not fracture critical. This is because that fracture critical bridges, when inspected routinely and when given normal, routine maintenance and repairs, are really just as safe as any other bridge.
It is also clear that Brayman Construction simply wanted to make their own lives easier. Their counterproposal cited work in the proposed rehabilitation such as routine concrete removal and steel repair as "tedious hand demolition." This statement speaks more about laziness than it does about the wise use of taxpayer dollars and the feasibility of historic bridge preservation.
This whole concept of having engineering and construction companies present a counter-proposal to a proposed project raises some serious questions. The idea behind allowing such a process initially makes sense. Who better than to make sure that a proposed bridge project is the most effective way to serve taxpayers than the companies who have such extensive experience working with bridge projects? In many cases, this process may be useful for this purpose. However there is a problem. The goal of a company is to make the maximum amount of profit with the least amount of expense on the part of the company, plain and simple. So could there perhaps, just maybe, occasionally be even a tiny little bit of bias in this regard? What could Brayman Construction stand to gain from their counterproposal? They get a larger project. Regardless of the long-term cost of maintaining a replacement bridge versus a historic bridge, the fact is the replacement bridge costs taxpayers more money, and is a bigger project for Brayman Construction. They also get the scrap steel value from the demolition of the historic bridge. Based on the fact that the company website has an entire section on demolition services, the company apparently has a lot of experience with demolition. As such, they likely can do demolitions efficiently, thus maximizing their scrap steel profit. Finally, although rehabilitation usually costs taxpayers less than demolition and replacement, rehabilitation often means more effort on the part of the contractors and consulting engineers. Because so many bridges are demolished and replaced (and all replaced with the same types of standard bridges) contractors tend to have more experience with demolition and replacement. A rehabilitation might make the lives of contactors harder, since they might have to learn how to do something they do not normally do. In summary, although HistoricBridges.org is not qualified to offer a formal analysis of Brayman Construction's counterproposal, logic surely suggests that there is probably a level of bias in their counterproposal, a bias that PennDOT likely did not take into account when reviewing the counterproposal.
Having presented this argument, and having made a case that Brayman Construction is causing great harm to the futrue of historic bridges, in all fairness HistoricBridges.org does want to recognize that Brayman Construction has, in the past, engaged in some good rehabilitation work in Pennsylvania, including rehabilitation of Pittsburgh's Hot Metal Bridge, Johnstown's Ferndale Bridge, and the Monaca-Beaver Railroad Bridge over Ohio River. It is unclear why the company did not want to continue this portfolio with the rehabilitation of the Strank Bridge. The fact remains however that their counterprospoal may have a devastating effect on the future for Pensylvania's historic bridges. Because this one rare time that PennDOT ever tried to rehabilitate a bridge instead of replacing it, a company then shot it down, it makes it even less likely that PennDOT will consider rehabilitation of historic bridges again in the future.
In conclusion, for once, blame for the demolition of this bridge is not PennDOT's fault for the most part. They actually tried to do the right thing. However Brayman Construction managed to convince PennDOT that continuing the pattern of demolition and replacement seen across the Commonwealth was a better way to go, even if they did use questionable logic to make their argument.
The historic Sergeant Michael Strank Memorial Bridge was designated as such to honor Strank, who was raised in Conemaugh and was one of the six men who participated in the famous Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima following the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. Strank was killed a week after the flag raising. As a unique structure with elements of beauty and history, the historic Strank Bridge was a fine way to honor the Strank's service and sacrifice to the United States. However, what will the replacement bridge do to honor Strank? The proposed replacement bridges will be so plain and ugly, so undistinguished, that it seems almost insulting to consider it a memorial to someone who fought and died to protect the freedom of the United States. A memorial to a solider like Strank should be something impressive and special, to properly honor what he gave for this country. The replacement for the historic Strank Memorial Bridge will have the appearance of little more than a slab of concrete. At best, it will be an extremely poor memorial to Sergeant Michael Strank.
Information and Findings From Pennsylvania's Historic Bridge Inventory
Discussion of Bridge
The 1921, 750'-long viaduct has a riveted, 176'-long, Parker thru truss main span and 8 thru girder, deck girder, and adjacent box beam approach spans. The last are replacements dating from 1977. The safety shape parapets and cantilevered sidewalk with modern steel railing date to 1984. The viaduct uses common technologies and has no innovative or distinctive details. Nor is it significant in association with the former Pennsylvania Railroad main line, because the viaduct was built as a highway oriented project meant primarily to improve vehicular traffic flow, not by the railroad to increase the efficiency of its operations. The viaduct is neither historically nor technologically significant.
Discussion of Surrounding Area
The viaduct carries a 2 lane street with sidewalks over the Conrail (the former PRR) main line, the C&BL RR , Railroad Street in East Conemaugh borough and the Little Conemaugh River. The viaduct joins Franklin borough and East Conemaugh. The areas near the viaduct are undistinguished and lack the architectural significance and integrity of a potential historic district.
Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: No
This historic bridge has been demolished. This map is shown for reference purposes only.
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