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Preserving Historic Artifacts during Bridge Construction in Washington County

July 06, 2020 08:00 AM
By: Raymond Deep

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​PennDOT District 12 recently completed the replacement of two bridges in Washington County. A box culvert structure was placed on State Route 3041 (Cash Day Road) over Short Creek in Morris Township, and an elliptical pipe culvert was placed on Route 4049 (North Main Street) over a branch of Chartiers Creek in Washington, Washington County.

Along with the structure replacement, both projects included minor roadway approach work, drainage upgrades, guide rail upgrades, utility relocation, signing and pavement markings and other miscellaneous construction. The project on Cash Day Road came with additional challenges to protect pieces of Pennsylvania history.

Cash Day Road

Route 3041 was known to be a site that could potentially have archaeological findings deposits if undisturbed soil was found during the project excavation. 

An archaeological monitor from Markosky Engineering was present for all roadway excavation and earthen disturbance within a previously defined archaeological site boundary. Excavation was conducted with an excavator guided by the archaeological monitor in the areas of potentially undisturbed soils. The monitor also excavated, by hand, areas where potentially undisturbed areas were observed to confirm the presence or absence of undisturbed soils. Excavated undisturbed soils were examined for the presence of artifacts and the exposed undisturbed surfaces were examined for the presence of cultural features. Early in the construction, the contractor encountered undisturbed soil that did have archaeological artifacts.

The archeological monitor documented and photographed the chert flakes that were recovered from the excavated areas. Native Americans used this chert to make tools, and the flakes represent the castoff material and weapons. The archaeological monitor then had excavation stopped until PennDOT's Historical Preservation Specialist was notified and the findings were discussed.

The area of the undisturbed soils and artifacts were covered with a tarp and surrounded with orange construction protective fencing.

Following state and federal guidelines, the Historic Preservation Specialist contacted the State Historic Preservation Office, the Federal Highway Administration United States Army Corps of Engineers and Consulting Parties within 48 hours. 

The District 12 Geotechnical Unit and archaeologist, along with a contracted archaeologist, worked together to come up with a solution to preserve and protect the artifacts while constructing the project. A redesign was developed that minimized excavation. The construction was able to resume with only a slight delay.

In the end, the project was able to be constructed with minimal disturbance of the area and maximum preservation of any significant history. 

The effective communication between the Markosky's staff, PennDOT personnel and the contractor was key in ensuring the project was a complete success.

North Main Street

The Route 4049 bridge replacement was a more straightforward project because there were no historic artifacts in the area. It was completed over a 4-day weekend in coordination with the Washington County Fair Grounds and museum schedules. A relocated waterline had to be encased in concrete after construction to allow for the placement of rock for scour protection.

With more than 25,000 state-owned bridges, Pennsylvania has the third-largest number of bridges in the nation. Visit our website to learn more about bridge projects and programs in Pennsylvania.

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