Upper Salford has a bridge it wants to sell you

Posted: November 09, 2010

A plan to remove a condemned piece of infrastructure in Upper Salford Township won't cost taxpayers a dime and could help fund construction of an eventual replacement.

And if you believe that bit of creative financing in this age of budget-busting government spending, officials there also have a nice bridge they'd like to sell you.

No, really, they want you to buy their bridge.

Earlier this month, township supervisors put a 35-year-old, wooden span crossing what was once the Reading Railroad's Perkiomen Branch Line up for Internet auction on the site MuniciBid.com.

Seeking to sell to anyone who will pay at least $100 and cover the cost of removal, they hope to devote any proceeds and the money saved on demolition fees toward construction of a new, more permanent concrete bridge.

Supervisors Chairman Theodore F. Poatsy Jr. said that strapped by the township's financial limits, he and his colleagues were looking for creative solutions to deal with what had become a costly local problem.

But ask him the obvious question - who would want to bid on a relic? - and he shrugs.

"Maybe somebody wants to move it onto a golf course or just wants it for the timber," he said Monday, staring up at the humpbacked overpass from a wooded trail more than 20 feet below. "Maybe one of those historical preservationists can find some use for it."

To regular attendees of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the rickety wooden bridge just yards from the fairgrounds near Harleysville is a familiar site.

First constructed by the Reading Railroad in 1910 and then rebuilt in 1975, the trestle connects two sides of Salford Station Road and now provides an easily identifiable landmark for cyclists and runners on the repurposed Perkiomen Trails below.

But the 16-foot bridge itself has sat dormant since 2006, when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed it to pedestrian and motorist traffic, citing concerns over its structural integrity.

The cost of repairs has long been too daunting for the township to take on. One contractor estimated the government needed at least $100,000 - nearly one-sixth of the local government's annual budget and approximately the same price it would cost to start over and rebuild.

So officials opted this year to turn to the Web instead.

"Instead of going and spending all that money to tear it down ourselves, we could make some of it back and use it to put toward the next bridge," Poatsy said.

Greg Berry, founder and chief executive of MuniciBid.com, described the Upper Salford bridge auction as one of the more unusual sales he has hosted since launching his business, which typically offers more mundane fare like outdated computers and decommissioned government vehicles to interested buyers across the country. But the site has seen its share of other interesting lots.

Earlier this year, Montgomery County auctioned off the rights to harvest a government-owned cornfield on a farm that commissioners had voted to shut down. A local farmer won that sale as the lone bidder with an $1,800 offer.

The county's prosecutors also sold for a combined $780 a collection of comic books and sports cards seized as part of a drug dealer's illicit gains.

"It's always interesting to see what comes across the site," Berry said. "But the bridge is definitely a first."

Upper Salford officials are asking for a minimum bid of only $100 for their bridge and require the winner be fully insured for the removal process. But as of Monday evening, not a single bid had been placed.

Poatsy said he hoped to reveal the results at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday night, but may consider relisting the auction if a bid isn't placed before then.

If no bidders express an interest, the township will have to shoulder the cost of demolishing the bridge.

"It's so bucolic, it's so rustic, it's so the scene we're trying to preserve here in Upper Salford," he said. "It's a shame to see it go, but it has to go."

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 610-313-8212 or jroebuck@phillynews.com.

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