A historic bridge or a multi-generational family farm.
For Pat Kohler, owner of Horsham’s Kohler Farm on Limekiln Pike in Horsham, those just might be the choices as PennDOT officials wrangle with the best design and rehabilitation of the Limekiln Pike Bridge.
Since the state-owned bridge closed in the northbound direction in May 2010, Kohler said she and her son Nathan have seen a 25 percent to 35 percent decline in customers buying produce and flowers from their farm market.
The family, which has owned the 100-acre farm for 70 years, is even contemplating selling the property.
“It’s probably going to come to that,” Pat Kohler said of the farm her late husband’s family has owned since 1922. “I hope they’re happy trading a historic bridge for a farm because that’s what it’s going to come to.”
Chuck Davies, PennDOT assistant district executive for design, said that following community concerns from Horsham and Montgomery townships at a meeting late last year, PennDOT is essentially back at the drawing board. Davies said the plan was to award the construction bid in 2015, but said, “We shaved a year off of that.”
“We may be able to do better than that. Things may fall into place,” Davies said. “We know it’s a hardship out there for people. We will advance it in any way we can.”
Once a bid is awarded and work begins – presuming weather does not prevent construction – Davies said construction would continue for 12 to 18 months, meaning at a minimum, the bridge would remain closed at least through 2015 and possibly 2016.
Prior to being restricted to a one-lane bridge, PennDOT Spokesman Gene Blaum said 9,200 cars drove across it, in both directions, every day. Blaum said he did not have an estimate of the traffic flow now.
Pat Kohler said fewer vehicles are navigating around the orange cones and construction signs - and to her business - because of the hassle and traffic detours. What was once an assured customer base of several hundred per day and 500 leading up to Halloween is considerably less.
“They have to go so far out of their way,” she said, noting that, like all businesses, the operation is seeing a rise in expenses, including health insurance. “I can’t do that for four more years.”
Horsham Township Manager Bill Walker said he’s been working with State Rep. Todd Stephens to speed up bridge repairs.
“To us, that’s just too far away, too long of a period,” Walker said of the projected 2014 start date. “There’s not much that we can do as a local municipality.”
Walker said the township is coordinating with Montgomery Township officials in requesting that PennDOT conduct a speed study to determine if lowering the speed limit from 45 to 35 miles per hour as the roadway approaches the bride might be possible. Lower speeds on that section of road would mean less right of way acquisition needed, Walker said, which could help to move the process along quicker.
“We’re looking at every little way we can to speed it up,” Walker said. “We want to get that bridge opened as soon as possible.”
Davies said a decreased speed limit would be “less impactful” on the properties on either side of the bridge, echoing Walker’s assertion that less right of way acquisition would be necessary.
“The less property we need to acquire is always better,” Davies said. “It can make the process go a lot smoother.”
Besides acquiring property needed for improvements to the circa 1838 bridge and finalizing designs to help smooth out the curve and widen the span, Davies said PennDOT will need to carry out an environmental clearance, which includes obtaining a permit for waterway obstruction.
Revamping the 43-foot-long, 26-foot-wide span - which was deemed to be in “poor condition” upon its one-lane closure last year - would cost a “few million,” Davies said, adding that it’s too soon to determine a true cost estimate.
Once more information is available, Davies said a public meeting will be held later this year to share details with the community.
Meanwhile, Pat Kohler, following a decrease in customers, damage from a hailstorm in June, ruined tomatoes and a $50,000 to $60,000 loss in pumpkin crops, is trying to obtain grants to help her business keep its head above water.
“If we got a grant or something to get us through this year we could hang in there another year and see what happens,” she said. “I’m trying to hang in there, but it’s not easy.”