We all lead busy lives. We all have somewhere to go. We all take infrastructure for granted.

But if one realizes that bridges need to be replaced every hundred years or so, it really brings the Route 72 bridge project in Frog’s Hollow into perspective.

The Route 72 bridge over the Swatara Creek in Swatara and Union Townships, just south of Jonestown, needs to be replaced, quite badly. Have you taken a really good look at it lately?

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Currently in the planning stages, construction on the new bridge is expected to begin in three years, and will take about six to eight months to complete. When finished, the new structure should last about a hundred years, and replace an existing bridge that has been supporting increasingly heavy traffic over the last 90 years.

It’s simply time.

The bridge on Route 72 is located to the southwest of Jonestown proper. (PennDOT)
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“It’s going to be a huge improvement for the area,” said Adam Wright, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s project manager for District Eight. “It will help everyone in that area who takes that roadway for years to come. We’re just asking for people to be patient with us. People don’t understand the design process and what it takes to rebuild a bridge. People just aren’t aware.

“If we would get another flooding event and it got under water, it would take years to replace,” added Wright. “It’ll be new, wider, and not need maintenance for a very long time.”

Construction of the estimated $3.9 million Route 72 concrete bridge over the Swatara Creek just north of Frog’s Hollow is scheduled to begin when the weather warms in the spring months of 2024, but it could be moved up depending upon the length of the project’s design process. The new bridge should be finished and in place in time for the winter months of that same year.

Read More: Route 22 bridge at Fredericksburg to be replaced, work begins early March

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When completed, the new, two-stand, wider bridge will feature two 12-foot lanes and two 8-foot shoulders. Once the final design is received, the project will be advertised, then go out to bid, and the qualified contractor producing the lowest bid will get the job.

“We’ll close the road, detour traffic, and the demolition process will begin,” said Wright. “We’ll remove the abutment to the pier and the two causeways on each side. Once the abutment and the pier are done, we’ll start working on the deck, which is the roadway surface you drive on. There are multiple pours involved, and time involved as each pour dries. It sounds simple, but it’s pretty involved.”

The bridge sees around 10,500 vehicles every day. (Falk)

The current bridge over the Swatara Creek, which was built in 1930, is certainly showing signs of wear and tear, more from rising flood waters over the past 90 years than heavy traffic.

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“It’s in bad shape,” said Wright. “I would imagine the damage has come more from water than cars. It’s a very tall bridge. There was a flooding event in 2011 and once the water went over it, the force of the water damaged it. I’m surprised it even withstood that event. There have been maintenance and repairs done on the bridge from then to now. But that flooding event really started this process. It was structurally sound to open back up again.

“There’s a rating system, and every two years the condition of every bridge is inspected,” continued Wright. “The last time that bridge was inspected the superstructure received a rating of five out of ten, which is fair. The substructure was rated as a five, which is fair as well. Right now, there is some concrete missing and the condition of the bridge is just a little bit below average. The current structure is an arch bridge, and the new bridge will have concrete bars. The water opening will be much bigger.”

Route 72 serves as the major artery connecting the city of Lebanon with northern portions of Lebanon County. Currently, about 10,500 vehicles cross the Route 72 bridge over the Swatara Creek each day.

Route 72 is also a major trucking route, connecting the Pennsylvania turnpike with Interstates 81 and 78.

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“That’s a busy road,” said Wright. “I know there are some warehouses in Lebanon and north of the city. But I’m not really sure who’s using what. It could be anyone.”

Now over 90 years old, the bridge has suffered damage in recent years due to water damage and other factors. (Falk)

For vehicles traveling north on Route 72, the detour around the Swatara Creek bridge project will begin at Cumberland and Ninth Streets in the city of Lebanon. Traffic will be directed west on Route 422 to Route 934 in Annville, north on Route 934 to Route 22 east and then back on to Route 72, just north of Jonestown.

“Originally, we wanted to go through Jonestown borough,” said Wright. “The detour route is pretty long, but it accommodates the trucks. It’s not simply cars that have to use it. The goal is to catch truckers going north on Route 72. The locals will know how to get around it. I’m guessing they’ll go through Jonestown and sneak through on the back roads.”

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About six months ago, PennDOT completed a similar project that replaced the South Lancaster Street bridge over the Swatara Creek in Jonestown, less than a mile east of the Route 72 bridge. Wright said that the two projects are unrelated.

“It was more of a timing thing,” said Wright. “That bridge was not in as bad a shape as this one. It’s just good that both were replaced. They’ll be a huge help to the public in the area.

“If this bridge wouldn’t be replaced, emergency repairs would cost more money,” Wright added. “It could basically be closed through the design process. I don’t see any reason this new bridge won’t last a hundred years. That’s about what we typically see. That’s pretty much the normal life for a bridge. The concrete and quality of construction materials are way better than they were in the 1930s. If things go well, this bridge will be wrapped up in 2024.”

If that is the case, the new bridge will outlive us all.


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