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Blog Post By: Lauren Golden, D&L Trail & Stewardship Manager
If you follow D&L projects closely, you may have heard us say that “All the low-hanging fruit has been picked, nothing left is easy”. The Dry Run Pedestrian Bridge project, located in Catasauqua, about two miles north of Allentown, is a perfect example of the realities of trying to connect the D&L Trail in the 21st century. Some projects go smoothly, while others are more complicated, but perhaps by sharing the story of Dry Run Bridge Development, our trail users will have a better understanding of what we go through and why we need your help and support. Currently, the improved portion of trail in the Borough of Northampton ends at the bridge over Hokendauqua Creek, at the southern end of Canal Street Park. In order to improve the trail and connect southward to North Catasauqua and Catasauqua, a pedestrian bridge must be constructed ½ mile south of Hokendauqua Creek.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) funding for the trail in the boroughs of Northampton, North Catasauqua, and Catasauqua was first secured in 2012. These funds require a 50% (dollar for dollar) match, which we had from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Unfortunately, in 2013, the match funds from PennDOT were reallocated and we were left unmatched. This wasn’t something the D&L could control, and so we persisted. Northampton County’s Open Space program provided some funding and the PA Department of Community and Economic Development awarded the D&L additional funds in 2014, recouping most of the lost funds. With sufficient funding in place, Dry Run Pedestrian Bridge, the Nor-Bath to D&L connector trail, and improvement of the D&L Trail in Northampton County could move forward. In early 2016, the design work for the Dry Run Bridge finished and a permit application was submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection. This large, complex permit allows the D&L to build in the Lehigh River floodway, a hoop we are happy to jump through because we believe the environment should be protected. At the end of April 2017 we received the permit!
You may have seen the announcement that Lehigh County and PennDOT will begin the much-needed replacement of the Coplay-Northampton Bridge over the Lehigh River. The eastern causeway for this construction is in the exact same location as the construction entrance for the D&L’s Dry Run Pedestrian Bridge. In other words, the Dry Run bridge contractor must cross through an active PennDOT project site in order to access the Dry Run site. This is an unfortunate coincidence that could not be avoided, as the last time the D&L was able to comment on the PennDOT project, per PennDOT procedures, was in 2006. Back then, no one could have known that these projects would be “shovel ready” at the exact same time.
Now the D&L, Lehigh County, PennDOT, and the contractors are working together to see if an access lane can remain open for the Dry Run Pedestrian Bridge contractor, through the Coplay-Northampton Bridge construction site. Both projects are important, but the D&L acknowledges that the Coplay-Northampton Bridge is a critical piece of street infrastructure for both Lehigh and Northampton Counties. We will move forward where we can, when we can.
If you’d like to help the D&L with trail projects, consider signing up for the fourth annual Bike for the Bridge event. We chose a new route this year because it is capped by trail obstructions that the D&L is working on closing. The trail above Weissport will be connected to Historic Jim Thorpe by the Carbon County Pedestrian Bridge that is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017. The D&L Trail south of Northampton Canal Park is currently closed due to an overhead bridge project and obstruction at Dry Run. Please visit www.delawareandlehigh.org/bike-for-the-bridge/ for more information and registration details.