MERCER CO. Viaduct project report will be available soon

Tax abatements aren't automatic, commissioners said.
MERCER, Pa. -- Answers are expected soon to questions about progress on the Oakland Avenue viaduct project over the Shenango Valley Freeway in Sharon.
Mercer County Engineer Mark Miller told county commissioners Thursday a three-dimensional analysis of the bridge should be completed this week. & quot;Until I see this, I don't have a comment on it, & quot; he said.
Miller said the analysis, which is being paid for by the contractor, will determine load limits and reveal whether stress from a misalignment will eventually damage the structure.
Construction was stopped in November because of alignment problems with a steel arch. Miller said the contractor must prove it is safe to proceed and federal, state and local officials have to be satisfied before work can resume.
Penalties have not been imposed for the delay, he said, but the contractor is incurring an estimated $20,000 in additional costs per month because of the holdup.
One man asked why no walkway has been provided for pedestrian access to State Street. Commissioner Gene Brenneman said a state official told him a walkway below the bridge would be too dangerous. Miller said to span the whole ravine with a temporary walkway would cost & quot;hundreds of thousands of dollars. & quot;
Other matters
Commissioners also expressed reservations about residential and industrial tax abatements.
A group from Sharpsville told commissioners it is considering commercial and industrial tax abatements in the borough.
A bill pending in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives may expand the types of abatements allowed. Though the details have not been worked out, borough officials wanted to know if commissioners would cooperate with abatements.
Tax Collector Mickey DeForest said that abatements have historically been used to clear deteriorating neighborhoods and create jobs and that there is only one area -- a blighted section of Sharon -- with such a program.
He said Sharpsville is not a blighted area and any abatement should be considered & quot;very carefully. & quot;
He warned that if all the communities in the county started abatement programs, it could effectively stop growth for years.
& quot;We may not have blighted areas, but we are trying not to get to that point, & quot; Sharpsville borough Manager Michael Wilson said.
Brenneman said even if such an abatement is approved by the municipality and school district, the county would not automatically agree.
Commissioners ratified a four-year contract with Teamster's Local 261 for bus drivers for the Mercer County Community Transit.
Manager Bill Jones said bus drivers whose salaries now range from $7 to $9.50 per hour will receive a 6 percent increase the first year and 3 percent in each subsequent year.
They also approved a contract for a new phone and data system with Verizon Network Integration Corp. for $250,849. Commissioner Olivia Lazor said the new system is part of a courthouse renovation project.
They also agreed to pay Carl Steepleton $83,500 for barn repairs and improvements at Munnell Run Farm, part of the county conservation district. Insurance will pay $66,514, the county $10,000, and the remainder will come from the conservation district.
Commissioners agreed to advertise their intention to amend the county hotel tax from 2 percent to 3 percent, effective Sept. 1. Action is expected in August.

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