Somerset County secures DCED grant to preserve historic Shaffer Covered Bridge

·2 min read

Jun. 1—SOMERSET — Funds are in place to ensure a post-Civil War era wooden bridge will continue to carry traffic over Ben's Creek for decades to come.

If all goes well, bids could be out to repair the Shaffer Covered Bridge this fall, Somerset County Planning Commission Director Brad Zearfoss said.

County officials secured a $100,000 Department of Community and Economic Development grant to replace failing support beams that support the Conemaugh Township covered bridge's roof — an issue that has concerned Somerset County Commissioners for the past several years.

"It's in need of major updates," President Commissioner Gerald Walker said.

"It's one of the challenges with of all our historic covered bridges. If you want to preserve them, you have to maintain and update them," Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes said. "And that's expensive to do."

County officials voted 3-0 to accept the DCED multimodal transportation grant Tuesday.

Structural concerns closed the bridge to traffic in 2020 before a temporary system was installed to help support the roof.

Since then, county work crews have replaced the roofing material with a new metal covering. That took care of holes that threatened to cause more damage.

"But that doesn't address the bigger problem," Walker noted.

Zearfoss said the truss bridge's overhead support system will need to be replaced. Because the structure is designated as a historic, each hardwood beam will have to be installed to match the bridge's 1870s-era look.

The project itself shouldn't take more than a month, he said.

But engineering plans and permit acquisition — such as approval to work above the creek — will have to be done before any work can occur.

That process can take six to eight months, Zearfoss said.

That would set up the project for a wintertime construction date — but if conditions are poor that work would likely shift to spring 2022, he said.

Continuing a practice that has been ongoing for more than a decade, the county approved a $742,982 project enabling the county assessment office to update property maps countywide through "fly-over" photography.

The county already budgeted for the cost and will pay the tab in payments over the next four years, the commissioners said.

"In an ideal world, new structures are always reported and permitted, but that's not always the case," Commissioner Colleen Dawson said.

By keeping maps updated for assessment purposes, the county can continue assuring property owners pay their fair share — and also aren't taxed for someone else's structure, she said.

The digital mapping is used heavily by real estate agents who list properties and as well as law enforcement, she said.

"With technology improving, it's just a much more effective way to ensure our mapping data is accurate," Tokar-Ickes said.