Unexpected detour on Holme Avenue

The Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion had every in­ten­tion of keep­ing traffic flow­ing on Holme Av­en­ue dur­ing a 20-month bridge re­con­struc­tion pro­ject just east of Holme Circle.

But on Monday af­ter­noon, PennDOT sur­prised mo­tor­ists, along with res­id­ents and busi­nesses of the area, by clos­ing the state high­way and re-rout­ing about 22,500 cars a day.

The state agency cited unanti­cip­ated struc­tur­al dam­age for the clos­ure. That is, the 92-year-old Holme Av­en­ue Bridge is in worse shape than in­spect­ors thought when work began in Novem­ber on the de­teri­or­at­ing I-beam struc­ture. Work has con­tin­ued daily since then.

Yet, the road clos­ing also comes in the wake of heavy cri­ti­cism from area res­id­ents who at a re­cent Holme Circle Civic As­so­ci­ation meet­ing de­man­ded that PennDOT and its con­tract­or ad­dress the prob­lems of speed­ing and reck­less mo­tor­ists in the work zone.

“It does not re­late to [those] con­cerns,” PennDOT safety press of­ficer Jenny Robin­son said of the road clos­ing. “Our con­tract­or, when work­ing on the bridge, in tak­ing apart the bridge, in be­gin­ning that pro­cess, un­covered some pretty ser­i­ous struc­tur­al con­cerns.”

Vi­bra­tions caused by work­ers and traffic could worsen pre-ex­ist­ing cracks in the bridge’s deck and sup­port struc­ture, she ex­plained.

“It’s a ne­ces­sity to en­sure the safety of the pub­lic. There is no choice in this,” Robin­son said.

Robin­son said she was un­aware of any com­plaints by neigh­bors about speed­ing or reck­less driv­ing in the work zone. She re­ferred all ques­tions about traffic en­force­ment to the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment.

Typ­ic­ally, the bridge is four lanes wide. For the $5.9 mil­lion pro­ject, the ini­tial plan was to keep traffic flow­ing with one lane in each dir­ec­tion while crews worked on the in­act­ive two lanes. The work zone stretches from Long­ford Street to Lew­in Place, span­ning a Con­rail freight rail­road.

Pri­or to the de­tour, con­struc­tion of a new box-beam bridge was ex­pec­ted to con­tin­ue through Ju­ly 2012. Now that the span is closed to traffic, PennDOT is tar­get­ing the end of this year for com­ple­tion.

Dur­ing the Holme Circle Civic As­so­ci­ation meet­ing on May 25, neigh­bors called for a live po­lice pres­ence in the work zone to con­trol traffic. Com­munity re­la­tions of­ficer Rudy Muller of the 8th Po­lice Dis­trict replied that the dis­trict had no plans to place a sta­tion­ary patrol car in the work zone. Patrol cars must re­main mo­bile and avail­able to re­spond to 911 calls else­where, he ex­plained.

Mean­while, PennDOT’s pro­ject man­ager told res­id­ents that the state agency wouldn’t pay for a per­petu­al po­lice pres­ence for an ex­ten­ded peri­od of time.

At a pri­or Holme Circle civic meet­ing, the gen­er­al con­tract­or for the pro­ject, Bob Buckley of Buckley and Co. Inc., 3401 Moore St., Phil­adelphia, said that PennDOT was re­quired un­der the con­tract to pay for ad­di­tion­al po­lice if needed at the site. On Monday, Buckley did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the new de­tour plan.

Robin­son on Monday was un­able to con­firm any spe­cif­ic terms in the con­tract re­lat­ing to po­lice cov­er­age.

Also dur­ing the May 25 civic meet­ing, PennDOT’s pro­ject man­ager fur­ther told res­id­ents that clos­ing Holme Av­en­ue was not an op­tion due to its heavy traffic volume. The av­en­ue is a primary con­nect­or between the In­ter­state 95 Academy Road in­ter­change along Frank­ford Av­en­ue and Roosevelt Boulevard.

Un­der the planned de­tour, the av­en­ue will be closed to through traffic between Wil­lits Road and the Boulevard, al­though loc­al mo­tor­ists will be able to travel as far as Long­ford Street go­ing west­bound and as far as Lew­in Place go­ing east­bound.

All oth­er traffic is sup­posed to use Wil­lits Road, Welsh Road and Roosevelt Boulevard to cir­cum­nav­ig­ate the work zone. The de­toured stretch of Holme Av­en­ue sup­ports many busi­nesses, St. Jerome’s Church and School and Naz­areth Hos­pit­al.

“There’s a bar, a hair salon, a deli and a pizza place,” said Joe Raz­ler, board mem­ber of the Holme Circle Civic As­so­ci­ation. “I’m sure all are go­ing to be im­pacted.”

Raz­ler was un­aware of the road clos­ure un­til con­tac­ted by a North­east Times re­port­er and neigh­bors on Monday af­ter­noon.

The de­tour fig­ures to place heav­ier bur­dens on nearby streets, in­clud­ing Welsh Road, Ashton Road, Pennypack Street and Rhawn Street.

Robin­son said that PennDOT sent out no­tices of the street clos­ing via e-mail and fax to those on its me­dia and gov­ern­ment con­tacts list. A call was placed to Naz­areth Hos­pit­al. The North­east Times re­ceived no­tice just one hour, 40 minutes, be­fore the sched­uled 2 p.m. clos­ing.

Raz­ler’s Holme Circle Civic As­so­ci­ation has sched­uled an emer­gency meet­ing with PennDOT and the con­tract­or to dis­cuss the im­pact of the road clos­ure and de­tour. It will be next Wed­nes­day, June 29, at 7 p.m., at St. Jerome’s School, Stam­ford and Col­fax Streets. All res­id­ents and area mer­chants are wel­come to at­tend. ••

In­form­a­tion about the bridge pro­ject is also avail­able on the In­ter­net at www.dot.state.pa.us

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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