The Mill Road bridge replacement is one of several projects under review for inclusion among the first round of wooden bridges built in Pennsylvania since the 19th century, according to a PennDOT official.
"We're looking to replace the Mill Road bridge with a functional structure so long as it meets PennDOT's requirements, it is funded to the same extent by the state, and it clears the county of any liability," said Andrew L. Warren, chairman of the Bucks commissioners.
Warren inspected the old bridge Monday with state Rep. David W. Heckler (R., Bucks) and James R. Wannemacher, a Mill Road resident who has spent two years voicing his and his neighbors' concerns about preserving the neighborhood's historic, rural character.
Heckler said he planned to set up a meeting next month to bring municipal, county and state officials together to hammer out a "win-win" solution on the bridge issue.
"My objective is to achieve a good, common-sense solution for the taxpayers. That involves the potential of downsizing the (proposed) bridge and possibly constructing it with some other material, possibly hardwoods," Heckler said.
"The proposed bridge complies with engineering specifications established by the federal government and administered by PennDOT, but it seems to be much larger, more elaborate and more ugly than need be."
To replace the existing bridge with a smaller, wooden span would be ''aesthetically more compatible with the neighborhood," said Wannemacher, a real-estate agent who specializes in historic properties.
"Never in my life did I imagine making a career out of a 30-foot bridge," he said.
He and his neighbors contend that widening the bridge to 30 feet would open the door to widening Mill Road.
"And historic properties along Mill Road would suddenly have pavement pushed up to their front door," Wannemacher told the Buckingham Township supervisors last fall.
In addition, the proposed new concrete bridge would require removal of up to 75 trees that are more than a century old, he said.
Buckingham's supervisors last week instructed township manager Beverly J. Curtin to write the Bucks County Commissioners urging them to revise their
plans to build the larger, concrete bridge.
The hardwood timber bridges are more aesthetically suitable for rural, relatively little-traveled roads, and they cost less to build than concrete bridges, Curtin said.
For example, a 25-foot, single-lane hardwood timber span built last year in the Allegheny National Forest cost $30,000, although it was "half the size we're talking about," she said.
County officials are planning to meet with all concerned parties to reach a compromise on the bridge replacement issue, said Bob Moore, executive director of the Bucks County Planning Commission.
"We don't want the state funds allocated for this project, 80 percent of the total, to lapse. So we will explore the possibilities of building a replacement bridge more sympathetic to the needs of the citizens of the area," he said.