Bridge Pier

Mike Sellers inspects one of the bridge piers built in the 1800s.

NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> Plans to build a pedestrian footbridge over Newtown Creek are one step closer to reality.

At the Nov. 26 meeting, the board of supervisors voted 4-0 to start the ball rolling for the non-profit Newtown Creek Coalition to look into getting state money to build a new structure using six existing stone piers of an old trolley line that was discontinued in 1923.

The trolley ran along Penn Street, State and crossed the creek at Frost Lane before continuing to Doylestown.

Voting to set up a three-party study group between the township, the coalition and Newtown Borough were: Chairman Phil Calabro, along with Supervisors Linda Bobrin, Dennis Fisher and John Mack. Supervisor Kyle Davis did not attend the meeting.

“The footbridge would create a safe recreational pedestrian connection between the township and the borough,” said Mike Sellers, president of the Newtown Creek Coalition.

In his 40-minute presentation to the supervisors, Sellers said the current three bridges over the creek at Jefferson Street, Washington Avenue and Centre Avenue, each only have one sidewalk and are “a challenge and sometimes dangerous” for pedestrians to use.

He also noted that the township has a comprehensive trail plan in place and that this bridge would be an addition of linking trails on both sides of the creek.

Currently, the township has received a $375,000 state grant for developing the Lower Dolington Road Trail and has also allocated about $145,000 in local funding in 2020 for the project. It will be used to build the one-mile, 10-foot-wide multi-use trail which will run from Frost Lane to Upper Silver Lake Road. It would have pedestrian crossings and several stop signs along the way to make it more of a safer route.

According to Sellers, the state has a number of grants available to fund transportation alternatives, trail expansions, as well as storm water management. And he said that this project falls into all these areas where funding is available.

That state money would mostly come from the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

“This particular project touches a lot of bases that the Commonwealth likes to fund,” he explained, adding that if Newtown Borough comes on board it would give an extra impetus in getting that funding.

“The Commonwealth likes inter-municipal cooperation,” Sellers asserted.

In addition, he pointed out that while the coalition can advise, it cannot directly apply for the state funding, only municipalities can.

With their vote to look into the feasibility of the footbridge, the supervisors agreed to set up a working group to formally study the proposal and for which grants to apply.

The group would be tasked with coming up with recommendations on how to actually construct the footbridge and if the existing trolley piers can be used.

The next step is for Newtown Borough Council to also approve a resolution to look into the project.

With several borough council members attending the supervisors’ meeting, the approval seems highly likely.

According to Sellers, it would be a “multi-year project” and the grants would be in two phases, for planning and construction.

Until 2016, pedestrians could use a footbridge off of North State Street which was on private property.

However, the bridge was shut down by the property owner after it fell into disrepair and became a liability.

Even though state grants could help fund the project, they usually require municipalities to also contribute money, something that has several supervisors concerned, including Supervisor Mack who stated that “grants don’t cover 100-percent.”

To help with the proposed footbridge, Sellers said that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has an inventory of old railroad spans that have been taken apart and stored for future use for projects such as this one.

According to Sellers, PennDOT sells these trusses for $1.00, but buyers have to pay the cost of transporting them to the site.

However, he said that federal grant money is available to help pay for bringing them here.

Also at the meeting, the supervisors agreed to schedule an informal meeting with Econsult Solutions, Inc., a Philadelphia-based firm that conducts specializes in economic development, real estate and public policy.

The company was the only viable firm that responded to a recent request for proposal (RFP) to help the township put together a detailed five-year plan to help with its financial future goals.

The 2020 preliminary operating budget already contains $40,000 to have the fiscal study prepared.

It will help the township develop comprehensive multi-year plans, as well as establish short-and-long term budgetary objectives and strategies over the next five-to-10 years, which are expected to have notable revenue shortfalls.

Earlier this year the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development had awarded the township a $40,000 matching grant to pay for the report.

Once the study is undertaken, it is expected to take eight-to-10 weeks to complete and will hopefully be ready when township officials start planning for the 2021 operating budget.

The supervisors said they hope to hire a consultant within the next few weeks.

In other news, the board voted 4-0 to not join an ongoing federal class action lawsuit in Ohio aimed at seeking damages from the makers of prescription opioids.

According to township solicitor David Sander, the opt-out came on the advice of the New York City-based law firm of Marc J. Bern & Partners, LLP which the township had hired last year to file suit against the opioid manufacturers in Bucks County Common Pleas Court.

The law firm, which specializes in national personal injury and mass tort cases, is being assisted by attorneys from Cordisco & Saile, LLC, which is based in Doylestown.

Several Bucks County municipalities have already joined the local litigation, including Bensalem Township.

According Sander, this is a procedural matter because by not joining the federal class action, the township can continue with its own lawsuit and seek separate damages.

The township will not be charged any attorney fees for filing its own action, and the law firms are working on a contingency basis.

These suits allege that the manufacturers misled the public about the dangers of prescription opioids and that the drug companies have disregarded their obligation to monitor distribution in the communities and halt any suspicious sales.

Although several supervisors had acknowledged that any damages which could eventually come to Newtown Township might be minuscule, the money could be used for treatment.

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