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. ••