EXETER — Demolition began Tuesday morning on the Coxton Railroad Bridge — a project that will take four to six weeks to complete.
A crew from Advanced Demolition and Blasting of Saxonburg, contractor for the $796,600 project, started working at around 9 a.m.
By 10:15 a.m., the first section of the old, rusted, deteriorating span dropped into the Susquehanna River.
Jim Brozena, project manager for the Redevelopment Authority of Luzerne County, explained that as the steel bridge is dismantled, it will be cut into pieces and hauled away to a scrapyard. He said when the bridge and supporting stone and concrete pillars are removed, the site will be returned to a natural riverbank.
“We’ve had this on our radar since the 2011 flood event,” Brozena said. “We’re just glad that the bridge is being removed on our accord rather than the bridge telling us when it’s coming down.”
Brozena said the old bridge has been in poor condition and has weakened over the years when the river rises.
Colleen Connolly, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the start of the demolition is a positive step forward in protecting the safety of residents in the Wyoming Valley, and the result of state and local government working together.
“A collapse into the Susquehanna River would have caused extensive flooding, especially for residents in low-lying areas,” Connolly said. “The work today is something that DEP has advocated for ever since the structure began to deteriorate.”
Tom Batronis, general manager for the demolition company, said none of the bridge’s steel is salvageable.
“It’s old-school steel,” he said. “It’s all going to a scrapyard.”
A huge machine was used to cut the steel, causing it to drop into the river. Brozena said the large sheers on the machine could cut through 2 inches of steel. He said once the bridge is removed, the pillars will be taken down to 2 feet below the river bed.
“It’s a perfect day to take a bridge down,” Brozena said. “It’s cool and the river is as calm as a lake.”
Andy Reilly, executive director of the county redevelopment authority, said the authority received $1 million in state disaster recovery funding to remove the bridge.
“Obviously, it’s been a long time coming,” Reilly said of the demolition.
Brozena said when half the bridge is taken down and the debris removed, the crew will move to the Duryea side of the river to complete the job.
“I think everybody is glad that we are moving forward on this and putting it behind us,” he said.
The redevelopment authority took ownership of the long-abandoned span, formerly owned by Leo Glodzik’s LAG Towing, in February at the urging of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The state had exhausted legal options to address concerns the bridge would collapse and cause flooding by acting as a dam.
LAG had purchased the bridge between Exeter and Duryea boroughs from the authority for $500 in 2007, but never carried out its plans to demolish the bridge and sell the steel for scrap.