YARDLEY BOROUGH >> After several years of discussion and debate, the Yardley Borough Council voted 6 to 1 on May 19 to replace the wooden Mary Yardley Footbridge with an aluminum span with a polyurethane coating.
Council has been working for the past two years on plans to replace the deteriorating Footbridge, which provides a pedestrian link over the Delaware Canal between Rivermawr and North Main Street and serves as an evacuation route during flooding events.
One of the chief stumbling blocks in the debate has been the material to be used to build the new bridge, both from a fiscal and a historic preservation standpoint. The current span, built in the 1980s, is wood construction and has not held up well to the passage of time.
Council had initially favored a fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) structure due to cost and engineering factors.
Local preservationists, however, favored a steel span arguing an FRP span would not be in keeping with the historic nature of the waterway and would set a dangerous precedent in the nationally-registered historic park.
Supporters of the steel span, including the Friends of the Delaware Canal, eventually proposed a compromise, suggesting consideration of a cheaper aluminum span in lieu of the FRP.
After hearing arguments for and against the two options, Council proposed both options to the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, which has input into what can be built in the state owned and maintained park. It responded to the borough in a letter received just hours before the council meeting.
In its letter, the PHMC said its preference would be a powder-coated brown aluminum bridge. “Ideally, the bridge should ultimately be an unobtrusive feature that blends in within the larger setting, as the focus should be on the canal itself, and in our opinion, the aluminum option painted brown best meets this preference.”
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which operates the state park, ultimately has the final say through the permitting process, but takes its cue from the PHMC.
While council agreed with the aluminum option, it disagreed with whether the span should have a powder or a polyurethane coating. It asked its engineer to send a letter back to PHMC asking whether it could use the polyurethane coating, which its engineer said stands up better with time, is more easily repairable out in the field and better withstands graffiti remover.
According to inside sources, the PHMC has responded favorably to the borough’s request, which will allow the engineers to move forward with the design and permitting of the project.
Councilman Matt Ross, who chairs the council’s public works committee and who works professionally in material sciences, attempted to postpone the vote, arguing against the aluminum option and calling it the “inferior choice” in terms of cost, safety and other reasons.
He argued that an FRP bridge would be stronger and hold up better to flooding and the potential of being hit by debris. “An aluminum bridge would not take the hit,” he said. “It is a severe safety concern in a flooding situation.
“I just want this bridge to be there, last the longest and cost the borough the least and be the safest choice,” said Ross.
Ross also argued that out of the options under consideration, the FRP would hold up better to graffiti.
The majority of council voted 5-2 against delaying the vote.
“I have the utmost respect for Matt and his technical expertise, but I do think this was all flushed out,” said Councilman John McCann. “It’s a community project. The borough is not funding this completely. There’s a fundraising element (and) the people who are going to go out there and fundraise are much more supportive of one option over the other. There’s enough here not to postpone it and move forward.”
In response to Ross’s concerns, Council Vice President Caroline Thompson noted that along that portion of the canal “we very rarely have logs floating down the canal. I understand the risk,” she said. “Maybe in 30 years there might be a problem, but I haven’t heard any compelling evidence that there is a huge difference between one or the other. We are well enough informed on this topic.”
Councilman Uri Feiner added a sense of urgency to the vote, noting that with the pandemic “there’s so much more foot traffic on that bridge then there ever has been before. We need to move forward, both for the benefit of the public and the safety.”
Council subsequently voted 6-1 to move forward with the design work of an aluminum bridge. It also directed its engineer to respond to the PHMC with its argument if favor a polyurethane coating.
The next step is to design the span and to secure the permitting required by the state to replace the structure.
In other action, council agreed to request a virtual meeting with PECO regarding the potential acquisition of a vacant lot in the Rivermawr section of town.
A borough-funded appraisal of the property, located adjacent to the Delaware Canal and the Mary Yardley footbridge, has estimated the value of the parcel at $55,000.
Council also agreed to explore applying for a PECO Green Region grant to help fund the potential purchase.
“Wouldn’t that be something if they (PECO) gave us money to buy a property from them,” observed Council President David Bria.
The property, which formerly housed a PECO substation, is located in the floodplain and is not developable. If acquired by the borough, it would be preserved as open space and be used for community gatherings, like the annual Canal-O-Ween Carve-A-Thon.