Firm details regarding the rehabilitation of a historic bridge are beginning to take shape.
The Walnut Lane Bridge, which spans the Wissahickon Creek and links Mt. Airy and Germantown to Roxborough, is slated to close for repairs for approximately six months in 2015.
While PennDOT has described the bridge as being structurally sound, crumbling sections of the bridge need to be addressed in order to ensure its longevity.
For several months, residents of the adjacent Blue Bell Hill neighborhood lobbied to keep at least one lane of the bridge open for the duration of the project. However, their request was determined to be unfeasible by PennDOT.
Since then, members of the Blue Bell Hill Civic Association have taken the lead position of community advocacy with regard to the project.
At the beginning of April, BBHCA members, along with representatives from the city and The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia, met with PennDOT for what BBHCA President Ron Goldwyn subsequently described as a “Sidewalk Summit.”
Impact of closure
While still months away from final specs and bidding, the summit yielded several updates to bridge’s closure:
Despite specific requests from the BBHCA for non-vehicular access to the bridge, Goldwyn said that PennDOT made no commitments to maintain bike and pedestrian paths across the bridge when the project begins in Spring 2015.
At the request of Parks and Recreation, all trails under the bridge will have overhead protection during construction, not just Forbidden Drive. The city will seek an additional meeting with PennDOT to discuss specifics, including aesthetic details, of the project.
PennDOT intends that upgrades to the Walnut Lane traffic circle will be completed during the time that the bridge is shut down. A raised traffic island planned for the eastern edge of the circle will be adjusted to allow emergency vehicles access to Johnson St.
Sidewalks will be repaired and/or built from the western end of the bridge to the entrance to the Blue Bell Park. A similar length of sidewalk will be added on the opposite side of Walnut Lane as well as along Park Line Drive to Cliveden Street.
Despite concerns with the availability of parking — especially for members of the Mt. Airy United Fellowship Church and for users of nearby Blue Bell Park — Goldwyn said that BBHCA members are generally pleased with the project’s recent refinements.
John Dixon, a BBHCA member who once led efforts to oppose the bridge’s closure, said that the recent colloquy with PennDOT resulted in significant improvements both to adjoining sidewalks and to the traffic island planned for the circle.
While pleased with the improvements to project, Dixon described them as serving as a “consolation prize” for neighbors who will be directly affected by the closure.
Josh Cohen, special assistant to Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. was present both for the summit and a subsequent discussion at a general meeting of the BBHCA.
“We are pleased that PennDOT listened to the concerns of the neighborhood and have redrawn their plans with community input,” Cohen said. “Although the closure of the bridge and the construction to the circle garden will be inconvenient, they will ultimately serve as major infrastructure improvements that will benefit the residents of Blue Bell Hill and surrounding neighborhoods.”
According to Goldwyn, PennDOT is currently revising drawings and will submit those drawings both to BBH and to the city. The city will take those revisions to city emergency services to make sure they meet city needs for safety and access.
While he said there is no timetable for this revision stage, Goldwyn said the BBHCA will continue to ask PennDOT for pedestrian and bicycle access across the bridge.