The fate of the South Perry Street Bridge was the object of discussion at a public meeting organized by Crawford County Commissioner candidate Dan Hunter on Tuesday held in Titusville.
The gathering attracted both local residents, politicians and political candidates for various levels of government. Hunter, who is one of the two Democratic candidates vying for the three available commissioner seats, said he set up the meeting after learning that many Titusville residents feel that their views are not considered in Crawford County affairs.
“I know in Meadville, we do definitely hear about Titusville as far as there is no representation,” Hunter said. “I think you guys feel that and you’ve come here tonight to maybe be heard, which is very exciting. Whether I’m your commissioner or not, this information needs to be talked about.”
The meeting was held in an informal manner, with those in attendance able to speak their thoughts and share suggestions freely. Topics of discussion included concerns regarding the bridge, whether to save or replace the bridge and who to turn to for support.
Titusville resident Ginger McCann was one of those attending the meeting who spoke about some of the fears relating to the lack of an additional bridge in town, especially in terms of allowing emergency responders to get to the scene of an accident in a timely manner.
“If there should be a major incident at the intersection of Bloss Street and Route 8, that should block Bloss Street and Route 8, and someone on Perry Street is having a heart attack (responders would have trouble getting there),” McCann said.
Titusvillian Jacqueline Mobilia asked whether it was possible that local people could raise money to repair the bridge. However, Hunter said it would be a large amount, citing a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation figure of around $3 million for planning alone.
“You’re looking at an awful lot of money,” Hunter said.
He suggested that the city could go into debt to pay for a new bridge, calling the $3 million amount not that much. However, several people in attendance expressed uncertainty of having to take care of a bridge that was originally under the purview of the county.
“Why is this tiny, suffering city being asked to take care of their bridge?” Mobilia said.
Hunter laid blame at a lack of preventative maintenance on the bridge, and said the bridge “has never been repaired by the county.”
On the topic of a possible replacement, should the bridge not be able to be repaired or saved, Hunter suggested the possibility of a wooden covered bridge, one large enough to fit cars and ambulances, if not fire trucks.
“If you found money for a wooden covered bridge, that would look quite nice,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that such a structure would come with many of its own maintenance requirements. Regardless, he suggested that the residents try to reach out to the state government for aid.
“Our local governments would have to go and ask the state to get into that,” Hunter said.
Daniel Smith, a political candidate who is running against Mike Kelly (R-16) in the House of Representatives, was present at the meeting and expressed sympathy toward the fight. Smith said that in his hometown of Zelienople, there was a similar such fight to save a bridge.
“I totally understand about this particular subject, and it’s not menial,” he said. “It’s important to little towns like Zelienople.”
He suggested getting in contact with local steelworker unions, who may be able to provide volunteer work and materials for repairs of the bridge. Smith also said he would get in contact with Zelienople officials to see what they had done with their bridge fight to bring forward any other suggestions.
The topic of getting the bridge declared as a historical landmark was brought up. However, Hunter said that while doing so might prevent the bridge from getting torn down, it does not prevent it from being moved to another location. The South Perry Street Bridge is currently listed for sale on the PennDOT website with an express clause that the structure may be moved.
“The new owner will be responsible for costs associated with removal, rehabilitation and long-term maintenance of the structure,” the listing for the bridge reads.
The website also clarifies that the bridge is eligible to be put on the National Register of Historic Places.
Also in attendance at the meeting was Titusville Mayor Esther Smith and Titusville City Council candidate Jon Crouch. Esther Smith responded to some questions regarding the city’s plan to use Community Development Block Grant money to replace the South Perry Street Bridge with a pedestrian crossing. The funds, which amounted to $170,000, for the replacement were recently transferred to a different project to raise the roof on the Titusville Fire Department due to demolition of the bridge taking longer than anticipated, and the grant funds having a three-year time limit, with plans to use future CDBG money for the project once the demolition is complete.
At an Oct. 18, 2017, meeting of Titusville City Council, a presentation by the company Recreation Resource put the price tag for a pedestrian crossing as totaling $580,350. The city had planned to use multiple year’s worth of CDBG money to pay off the construction.
Crouch offered some participation in the meeting. After discussion was adjourned, he spoke to The Herald about the necessity of saving the bridge.
“I think it’s very important to do whatever we can to save the South Perry Street Bridge,” he said. “it’s part of our history, is it not?”
At the close of the meeting, Hunter said he would like to hold another meeting in the near future with the hopes of getting more people and officials involved. He said that he had invited Crawford County commissioners Christopher Soff and Francis Weiderspahn, and said he would do so again for a second meeting.
He also expressed appreciation for the turnout of the meeting, which garnered more than a dozen people.
“I was hopeful for a small crowd and we got a good crowd,” he said.
Regardless of the outcome of the November general election, Hunter will hold the second meeting no matter what.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.