I-95 open house leaves Bridesburg grumbling

PennDOT is plan­ning a re­design and ex­pan­sion of In­ter­state 95 that will cause changes in Brides­burg's traffic pat­terns, leav­ing some loc­als miffed. 

  • Over 200 residents showed up at an open house sponsored by PennDOT to discuss the I-95 Revive project in Bridesburg. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • The map shows changes planned for I-95 north of Frankford Creek over the next six years. COURTESY OF PENNDOT

At the Brides­burg Boys and Girls Club last Thursday, more than 25 em­ploy­ees of the Pennsylvania De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion came to an open house to talk with res­id­ents about the on­go­ing re­design and ex­pan­sion of In­ter­state 95.

Two presenters ad­dressed an audi­ence of more than 200, while along the wall, PennDOT work­ers near en­larged maps of sec­tions of the pro­ject spoke to loc­als on an in­di­vidu­al basis about their ques­tions.

But des­pite PennDOT’s best ef­forts, some loc­als at the meet­ing still said they were con­fused about the pro­ject.

“Why didn’t they come to the com­munity be­fore they de­signed this?” said neigh­bor Mi­chael Wilkowski. “They should’ve done this five years ago.”

In fact, PennDOT held a sim­il­ar pub­lic in­put meet­ing about five years ago in Frank­ford.

But, as Wilkowski put it, “Frank­ford is Frank­ford. This is Brides­burg.”

One man who re­fused to give his name an­grily poin­ted at a map of the pro­posed design and loudly said to a PennDOT presenter, “This is only af­fect­ing one com­munity — my com­munity. We can feel it clos­ing in.”

The im­prove­ments of I-95 in Brides­burg and Frank­ford are ne­ces­sary, PennDOT em­ploy­ees said, to im­prove traffic flow by widen­ing the high­way to eight lanes, and to re­fur­bish the aging in­ter­state. All of I-95 between Vine Street and Cottman Av­en­ue is be­ing im­proved as part of PennDOT’s pro­ject.

Ma­jor pro­jects along I-95 between Wheat­sheaf Lane and Levick Street dis­cussed at the open house in­clude new ramps con­nect­ing the Betsy Ross Bridge to Ara­mingo Av­en­ue, re­mov­ing the south­bound off-ramp to James Street and re­pla­cing it with a ramp to Ta­cony Street, re­mov­ing the ex­ist­ing north­bound I-95 Bridge Street/Har­bison Av­en­ue off-ramp, re­mov­ing the ex­ist­ing I-95 on-ramp from Ara­mingo Av­en­ue, and cre­at­ing a new north­bound off-ramp from I-95 at Or­tho­dox Street. Or­tho­dox Street will be­come a two-way street between the ramp and Ara­mingo Av­en­ue.

“Their new off-ramp on Or­tho­dox Street is go­ing to ru­in the neigh­bor­hood. Why can’t it go out at Pearce and Le­Fevre street[s]?” said neigh­bor Michelle Printz. “That really im­pedes how we get to our house, so it really is a big deal for us. You’re go­ing to block up the one street we have.”

Printz also com­men­ted that Brides­burg has many old homes, some over 100 years old, and she is con­cerned that con­struc­tion and in­creased traffic could cre­ate vi­bra­tions that might shake down the found­a­tions of these aged homes.

An­oth­er res­id­ent at the meet­ing, Mark, who de­clined to give his last name, said he is sens­it­ive to air qual­ity and is con­cerned about ex­haust from in­creased truck traffic and dust from con­struc­tion. 

Mark was told by a PennDOT em­ploy­ee that no one from PennDOT at the open house could ad­dress his con­cern, but that if he filled out a com­ment card, his com­ments would taken in­to con­sid­er­a­tion.

“We will com­pile every single com­ment we have re­ceived, either on a com­ment card or verbally, and we will sort through them,” said Paul Schultes, a con­sult­ant for PennDOT who is su­per­vising the 95 Re­vive pro­ject. Schultes said that the end res­ult of last week’s open house would be a staff meet­ing at PennDOT to dis­cuss all the com­ments re­ceived from Brides­burg res­id­ents.

Res­id­ent Daniel Adair told PennDOT em­ploy­ees at the meet­ing that he be­lieves the Delaware Av­en­ue ex­ten­sion pro­ject must go for­ward be­fore the I-95 pro­ject goes in­to con­struc­tion, or truck traffic at Rich­mond Street will be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.

Thomas Branigan, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Delaware River City Cor­por­a­tion, agreed.

“If the Delaware Ave ex­ten­sion went all the way up to Bridge Street, cer­tainly all the traffic that’s go­ing to be de­toured from this con­struc­tion would have routes around the neigh­bor­hood, in­stead of through Brides­burg,” said Branigan, who at­ten­ded the open house.

However, cur­rently the city Streets De­part­ment is only work­ing on the first phase of the ex­ten­sion, from Lewis Street to Or­tho­dox Street, ac­cord­ing to Branigan. Bids will be called for in Novem­ber, and con­struc­tion should be­gin in March. But the second two phases, from Or­tho­dox to Bucki­us Street, and from Bucki­us to Bridge Street, are not sched­uled.

The long-va­cant Coke fact­ory prop­erty lies between Or­tho­dox and Bucki­us streets, which is con­sidered privately owned and thus out of city con­trol at present, Branigan said.

Dar­in Gatti, chief en­gin­eer and sur­vey­or for the city’s Streets De­part­ment, said that he is op­tim­ist­ic that the con­struc­tion phases north of Or­tho­dox Street will pro­ceed smoothly.

“The main reas­on for the Delaware Av­en­ue pro­ject is to get the truck traffic off Rich­mond Street,” Gatti said. “If any­thing, I-95 might help us push things for­ward … we’ve been dis­cuss­ing with PennDOT dif­fer­ent op­tions of how we can co­ordin­ate our two pro­jects.”

The earli­est chunk of the I-95 pro­ject will be­gin in 2015, with con­struc­tion of two new ramps over I-95 between the Betsy Ross Bridge and Ara­mingo Av­en­ue and oth­er pro­jects in that area. 

Over time the pro­ject will gradu­ally works its way north­ward. Work on the new Or­tho­dox Street ramp is not sched­uled to be­gin un­til 2020.

Between now and then, Schultes said that Brides­burg res­id­ents can ex­pect more op­por­tun­it­ies in the fu­ture to give PennDOT their in­put about the pro­ject.

“We want to en­gage the com­munity more,” Schultes said. “We want to talk to Brides­burg about things spe­cif­ic to Brides­burg.”

For more in­form­a­tion on the im­pend­ing changes to I-95, vis­it 95re­vive.com. ••

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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