Penn Township wins state road and bridge safety award

Penn Township in Chester County was named a co-winner of the 32nd Annual Road and Bridge Safety Improvement Award, presented at the 92nd Annual Educational Conference of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors in Hershey April 13-16, 2014, according to a press release. The conference attracted attendees from every county in Pennsylvania except Philadelphia, which has no townships. Penn Township won the award for a bridge replacement project.

The township association sponsors the statewide Road and Bridge Safety Improvement Contest each year in partnership with the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association and the state Department of Transportation to recognize townships for their extensive contributions of time and effort in making roads and bridges safer.

Penn Township undertook the project with the help of East Penn Railway, Inc., to replace a 163-year-old timber bridge that allowed Sunnyside Road to cross over a single-track rail line, which bisects the township. The bridge had been posted with a 12-ton weight limit in 1990 and was subsequently closed in 2003 because of severe deterioration of both the super- and substructure.

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Sunnyside Road is a major connector for the township to London Grove Township to the south and West Grove Borough to the east. Before its closure, it was regularly used by school buses and emergency vehicles and provided access for the southeastern part of the township to Jennersville Hospital and U.S. Route 1.

The original 55-foot-long one-lane bridge was just 14.7 feet wide, with a timber post-and-rail providing the only barrier to keep cars and pedestrians from going off the side. Steep embankments on the approaches also had no guide rails or other barriers.

East Penn Railway and Penn Township worked together to demolish the old bridge in 2007. The township contracted with McCormick Taylor, Inc. to design a replacement and help secure funding for the new bridge. The county and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission prioritized the project for funding through a program that would retroactively reimburse the township for 80 percent of the project costs.

Construction of the new bridge began in 2012 and was completed in spring 2013. The new two-lane structure is a 56-foot-long single-span, prestressed concrete, spread box-beam bridge with two 12-foot travel lanes. Reinforced concrete parapets along the sides of the bridge meet all impact resistance and safety requirements.

The project also included raising the road profile to provide the necessary clearance above the rail line, installing new guide rails on the approaches, and relocating a residential driveway to improve the sight distance for vehicles entering and exiting the property.

“The uniqueness of this project is that the orphaned bridge did not have a champion until Penn Township led the way,” the contest entry stated, “and it took the full cooperation of numerous regional, state, local, private, and public entities to successfully complete the project. Although Penn Township led the charge, it could not have advanced without the help from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, PennDOT, East Penn Railway, and PECO and the support of township residents and the adjacent communities of London Grove Township and West Grove Borough.”

Winning the 2014 Road and Bridge Safety Improvement Award means a lot to the township, which prides itself on keeping its roads in good shape, supervisor William Finnen says.

“I have lived here all my life,” he says, “and it’s great to be able to drive over that bridge again.”

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors represents Pennsylvania’s 1,454 townships of the second class and for the past 93 years has been committed to preserving and strengthening township government and securing greater visibility and involvement for townships in the state and federal political arenas. Townships of the second class cover 95 percent of the land mass in Pennsylvania and represent more residents — 5.5 million — than any other type of political subdivision in the commonwealth.