Northeast Times

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The clos­ing of a bridge on Holme Av­en­ue is hav­ing a pro­found ef­fect on res­id­ents, mer­chants and traffic.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Bob Licolli sells about 3,000 gal­lons of gas­ol­ine per day at his Sun­oco ser­vice sta­tion on Holme Circle at Ashton Road.

But when the Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion on June 20 ordered the emer­gency clos­ing of the Holme Av­en­ue Bridge just east of his loc­a­tion, Licolli lost between 700 to 1,000 gal­lons in daily sales.

Licolli’s busi­ness is one of many that have been and are ex­pec­ted to be neg­at­ively af­fected by a new de­tour, which is already in­to ef­fect but re­mains in de­vel­op­ment as state and loc­al traffic en­gin­eers try to fig­ure out on-the-fly how to re-route more than 22,000 vehicles a day around the bridge re­con­struc­tion pro­ject. Dozens of area res­id­ents are also feel­ing the ef­fects.

On June 29, about 40 com­munity mem­bers at­ten­ded a spe­cial meet­ing of the Holme Circle Civic As­so­ci­ation as PennDOT of­fi­cials and a con­struc­tion con­tract­or re­spon­ded to ques­tions about why the bridge was closed without pri­or no­tice and how au­thor­it­ies hope to mit­ig­ate the blow to neigh­bors.

The ques­tions greatly out­numbered the defin­it­ive an­swers.

“Nor­mally, traffic de­tours take years [to plan]. This is an emer­gency situ­ation,” said John Buckley of Buckley and Com­pany, the gen­er­al con­tract­or chosen by PennDOT to com­plete the bridge re­con­struc­tion pro­ject.

As re­por­ted in June 23 edi­tions of the North­east Times, a long-ago planned re­hab of the 92-year-old, four-lane mo­tor vehicle bridge began in Novem­ber and was sup­posed to con­tin­ue through Ju­ly 2012. The bridge car­ries Holme Av­en­ue over a freight rail­road about three blocks east of Holme Circle.

The ori­gin­al plan was for crews to work on two lanes at a time, with the oth­er two lanes re­main­ing open to traffic (one lane in each dir­ec­tion).

PennDOT an­nounced the emer­gency clos­ing on the morn­ing of June 20 and began rerout­ing traffic early that af­ter­noon. The state agency cited worsen­ing cracks in the pil­ings and deck of the con­crete, I-beam struc­ture.

ldquo;We be­came afraid — and we had in­spect­ors look at the bridge — that the whole bridge was go­ing to col­lapse,” Javi­er Salgueiro, PennDOT’s res­id­ent en­gin­eer, said at last week’s meet­ing.

“It had to close and it had to be done short-term,” PennDOT pro­ject man­ager Howard Windisch said.

In ad­di­tion to cracks, in­spect­ors ob­served shift­ing in the stacked blocks that com­prise the bridge’s abut­ments, Buckley ex­plained. The blocks rely on grav­ity to main­tain their po­s­i­tion and are not re­in­forced by steel bars.

Neigh­bors asked why in­spect­ors or work crews hadn’t no­ticed the im­min­ent danger earli­er, spe­cific­ally in ad­vance of con­struc­tion.

“[In­spect­ors] were aware of the abut­ment crack, but since the last in­spec­tion, which was a few years ago, it has widened,” Windisch said.

Mean­while, the pro­ject man­ager ad­ded, crews had spent most of the early months of the pro­ject do­ing util­ity work un­der­neath the bridge along the rail­road, not on the bridge it­self.

As of last week’s meet­ing, vir­tu­ally all of the bridge’s deck had been re­moved, Buckley said.

The up­dated sched­ule will have crews work­ing to re­build the abut­ments and deck six days a week, about 10 hours a day, so the pro­ject could be fin­ished by the end of this year. The cost of the $5.9 mil­lion pro­ject is not ex­pec­ted to in­crease sig­ni­fic­antly due to the sched­ule change, Windisch said.

Late last week, mo­tor­ists were still get­ting used to the de­tour, while neigh­bors were de­mand­ing ad­di­tion­al sig­nage and pos­sible route re­con­fig­ur­a­tion.

The of­fi­cial de­tour di­verts west­bound traffic at the Wil­lits Road and Holme Av­en­ue in­ter­sec­tion. Vehicles are dir­ec­ted along Wil­lits Road, which be­comes Welsh Road be­fore in­ter­sect­ing with Roosevelt Boulevard.

East­bound vehicles are di­ver­ted at the Boulevard and Holme Av­en­ue. They are dir­ec­ted north­bound on the Boulevard be­fore turn­ing right onto Welsh Road and con­tinu­ing via Wil­lits Road back to Holme Av­en­ue.

In keep­ing with PennDOT policy, all de­tour routes are state-owned roads.

Licolli, the Sun­oco/Ashton Road Auto­mot­ive own­er, wants PennDOT to dir­ect cars back to Holme Circle via Ashton Road. But Ashton is a city street, not a state-owned road. Trucks, Licolli said, would have to stay on the state-owned routes.

“Just so you know, this is my life. This is my bread and but­ter,” Licolli said. “This is af­fect­ing me drastic­ally.”

Licolli has laid off one day­time em­ploy­ee be­cause of his lost rev­en­ue.

PennDOT of­fi­cials said they have been in dis­cus­sions with city traffic en­gin­eers about modi­fy­ing the Ashton and Wil­lits in­ter­sec­tion to ac­com­mod­ate more traffic volume. Re­tim­ing traffic lights, adding a left-turn lane on Wil­lits and mov­ing stop bars farther back from the in­ter­sec­tion are un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Of­fi­cials have yet to de­term­ine if the in­ter­sec­tion is wide enough to handle SEPTA bus traffic.

Mean­while, of­fi­cials are try­ing to get ad­di­tion­al signs erec­ted to in­form mo­tor­ists that busi­nesses along Holme Av­en­ue re­main open, des­pite the de­tour.

Two pub­lic schools are dir­ectly im­pacted by the de­tour: Thomas Holme Ele­ment­ary at Academy and Wil­lits roads; and Pol­lock Ele­ment­ary on Welsh Road, just north of Holme Circle.

One Wil­lits Road res­id­ent re­por­ted that a “No Turn On Red” sign out­side of Holme Ele­ment­ary had been torn down and should be re­placed.

“In Au­gust, we’re go­ing to be co­ordin­at­ing with the [pub­lic] school dis­trict,” Windisch said.

One wo­man sug­ges­ted erect­ing stop signs at Wil­lits and Wes­ley­an roads to slow traffic on Wil­lits between Holme and Con­vent Av­en­ue.

“I know speed was an is­sue on Holme and it could be an is­sue on Wil­lits,” Windisch said.

Neigh­bors closest to the work zone, those liv­ing on Holme Av­en­ue, Lew­in Place, Joey Drive and Ar­thur Street, have big prob­lems.

Many mo­tor­ists ig­nore the signs at both ends of the de­tour and con­tin­ue on Holme Av­en­ue un­til they reach the work site. When they can’t pro­ceed fur­ther, they turn onto res­id­en­tial side streets look­ing for an out­let.

“They come down a 500-foot cul-de-sac at sixty miles per hour and when they get to the end, they get even mad­der,” one man said.

Drivers tend to fol­low one an­oth­er down the side streets, re­gard­less of the sig­nage. Many even stop to ask dir­ec­tions from neigh­bors.

Mean­while, neigh­bors are also wor­ried about ac­cess for emer­gency re­spon­ders. Days be­fore the meet­ing, a fire des­troyed a home on Long­ford Street. The loc­al fire sta­tion is at Roosevelt Boulevard and Holme Av­en­ue, on the op­pos­ite side of the closed bridge from Long­ford.

Buckley, the gen­er­al con­tract­or, said that he met with loc­al fire en­gine and med­ic com­pan­ies, along with po­lice, to de­term­ine their cov­er­age re­spons­ib­il­it­ies in con­sid­er­a­tion of the bridge clos­ing. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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