Study poses major setback for group lobbying to save Sheepford Road Bridge

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

A bridge engineer for York and Cumberland counties on Tuesday recommended the permanent closure of a historic bridge, dealing a blow to a group of locals lobbying for the bridge’s restoration.

Sheepford Road Bridge, an aluminum and iron truss bridge built in 1887, crosses the Yellow Breeches Creek between Fairview and Lower Allen townships.

Brian Emberg, from HRG engineering, told commissioners from both counties Tuesday night that the historical bridge services a low volume of traffic.

The bridge is unnecessary for people to get around in the area, and it would be expensive to fix, at $1.3 million, he said while presenting his study of the issue.

York County is responsible for the care and maintenance of 94 bridges, and Cumberland County is responsible for 28 bridges. The two counties share the responsibility for nine bridges, including the one on Sheepford Road.

Advocates for saving Sheepford Road Bridge have said they're afraid that without the bridge, they'd have no evacuation route in case something were to go wrong with the Mariner East 2 pipeline that crosses the northernmost tip of York County and bisects Cumberland County.

Janice Lynx, a Lower Allen Township resident and an organizer of the Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge, mentioned this argument during the public comment period at the commissioners' meeting Tuesday.

But Cumberland County Commissioner Jean Foschi said that based on her recent pipeline emergency training, no one would be able to leave by car if there were an incident at the pipeline, making it a moot point.

"If that pipeline leaks, you're not turning the ignition in your car and leaving," Foschi said. "You can't have a spark."

More:Residents rally for York-Cumberland bridge built in 19th century

More:LETTER: Refurbish old iron Sheepford Road Bridge

Lower Allen Township residents Joan Lenker, left, and Janice Lynx are working to save a bridge spanning the Yellow Breeches Creek that was built in the late 1800's.  
Wednesday, December 11, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Speaking more generally about emergency access issues, Foschi said Lower Allen Township doesn't have a problem with emergency vehicles being able to access the area, based on reports from local officials.

But if even there was a problem for emergency responders, rehabbing the Sheepford Road Bridge wouldn't solve it, she said, because the restored bridge still wouldn't be able to handle pipeline equipment, large fire trucks and other major apparatus. 

"We would need a new two-lane bridge," she said.

Advocates for saving the bridge said the two county boards would be able to secure funding to rehabilitate the bridge if they would only commit to the project and work with the group to find grants and other revenue sources.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said she'd be happy to get more information about available grants but that based on the commissioners' research, the bridge doesn't qualify for alternative funding streams and grants.

Several people who spoke in support of saving the bridge teared up during their public comments.

Michelle Goddard, of Fairview Township, got choked up when she talked about driving over the bridge with her young son to take him to school and said he calls it the "tunnel bridge."

"If a 3-year-old can appreciate the beauty of this historic bridge, I think we all can," she said.

Martha Klingensmith, also of Fairview Township, said it's inevitable that more and more people will be moving into northern York County and that the area around the bridge will be built up.

She said she grew up in the area and returned and settled down after attending college out of state.

A bridge engineer for York and Cumberland counties  recommended the permanent closure of the historic Sheepford Road bridge, dealing a blow to group of locals lobbying for the bridge's restoration. Wednesday, September 16, 2020.  John A. Pavoncello photo

"I hope my son feels the same way when it is his time to choose his future, that he would want to live in northern York County," Klingensmith said, becoming emotional.

The two county boards took no action Tuesday.

Other options for historic preservation include finding an outside buyer to purchase the bridge and pay for its maintenance as a pedestrian bridge for locals or finding a buyer who would pay for the bridge to be removed and reassembled in another location, which would cost $1.1 million and $900,000 respectively, Emberg said.

The outside buyer could also pay to have the bridge moved into Yellow Breeches Park at a cost of about $200,000, he said.

So far, there have been no interested buyers.

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