Walt Whitman Bridge begins three years of repairs

The Delaware River Port Authority this week officially will embark on a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Walt Whitman Bridge.  The project will completely revamp the span’s roadways. 

Construction crews will start by closing down and tearing up the far right hand lane that takes drivers from Pennsylvania into New Jersey. Delaware River Port Authority CEO John Matheussen says that one lane could take five months.

“We’re talking about removing the steel under-supports for the bridge as well as the blacktopped area and replacing the entire deck,” said Matheussen. “We’re doing that lane by lane and we’ll successively move across the bridge from south to north each doing one lane at a time.” 

While working on this one far lane, the DRPA will be able to keep four lanes flowing into Philadelphia in the mornings and out of the city in the evening.  Matheussen says things could get trickier once work begins on middle lanes.

He says it could take up to three years to redo all seven of the bridge’s lanes. 

The project’s price tag sits at between $130 million and $135 million. That money comes from tolls collected at the DRPA’s four bridges.

Crossing bridge by bike shows trail network potential

June 23, 2010

As Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition Advocacy Director John Boyle and I rode down Spruce Street in the bike lane on June 3, with minimal car traffic and other bikers passing us every few minutes, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on the Schuylkill River Trail.
 
We took in the sights of Old City and looked forward to our ride over the Ben Franklin Bridge, something I’d never done before. As we approached the Bridge, however, Boyle explained to me that we had to leave the Spruce bike lane and travel the wrong way up a one-way street, in order to reach the Bridge, because the only other way to get there is too dangerous, with no dedicated place for cyclists other than in lanes with cars.
 
Once we were on the Bridge and I was over my slight fear of heights, the ride was incredible: panoramic views of the Delaware River to my left and right, the Camden waterfront in front of me, the Philadelphia skyline behind me, lots of people running, biking, and walking past us in either direction.

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Eventually, we reached a point where the path bottle-necked. Boyle explained that the concrete had simply stopped being poured there and the sidewalk narrowed to about 3 feet, with tall fences on either side. We were forced to dismount and walk down this long stretch, something no cyclist wants to do. Then we had to walk down a long flight of stairs and through a tunnel to continue our ride on the scenic Camden Riverfront, past the Riversharks Stadium and the Camden Aquarium.
 
Riding over the Ben Franklin Bridge is a beautiful, enjoyable ride that is limited by a few small gaps in safety and/or accessibility. Those improvements could increase the number of people who use the bridge for exercise, pleasure, or even commuting, like Boyle.
 
Boyle takes NJ Transit to the Camden Riverfront before bicycling over the Ben Franklin Bridge and through Old City and Center City to the Bicycle Coalition’s office at 15th & Walnut.

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The Bicycle Coalition recently released a report on the Ben Franklin Bridge and how this historic landmark should be improved in terms of cycling and walking uses, as well as increasing its value as a Philadelphia landmark. The report offered solutions for several problems, mostly the same problems I saw during my ride. The main solutions were to accelerate the design of a new ramp in 2011 to replace the three-story stair tower on the Camden side of the bridge, make the entrances to the bridge on both sides of the river more welcoming, develop a snow removal policy that opens the walkway as soon as possible during weather related events, enhance community relations through public involvement and communication,  and publicize and market the bridge as a true regional attraction for all users. You can read the full report at http://www.bicyclecoalition.org/takeaction/bfbridge.

Boyle said, “The report was well received by the Delaware River Port Authority Board of Commissioners; in fact, DRPA CEO John Matheussen stated in both the Courier Post and The Inquirer that he will ask the Board of Commissioners for $100,000 in the 2011 fiscal year to do design work for the ramp in Camden with the rest of the money in the Capital Program released for the project in 2012. The idea is to improve coordination of the design and construction of the ramp with the TIGER projects (http://blog.bicyclecoalition.org/2010/02/getting-some-perspective-on-tiger-award.html) in Camden.”

Matheussen later told The Inquirer, “The ramp will be built in 2012.”

One possible improvement the report did not mention is the possibility of developing a trail to connect the Delaware and Schuylkill River waterfronts. With the Schuylkill River Trail extending to the Art Museum and the Spruce and Pine Street bike lanes serving as urban bike trails, a few extra bike lanes in the city and the improvements suggested by the Bicycle Coalition could enable someone to bike from the western suburbs all the way to the Camden riverfront.

There will always be the hardcore bicycle commuters and dedicated joggers who use the Ben Franklin Bridge for fun, exercise, commuting, or some combination. The key to improving the bridge is to make it more accessible to less skilled or experienced cyclists, and to encourage some commuters who only want to bike to work during the warm months, or if it is convenient. NJ Transit already allows bicycles on its vehicles, so the real improvement that needs to be made, aside from improving the actual bridge area, as that has already been discussed in the Coalition’s report, is SEPTA changing its rules to allow bicycles on all subway cars.

Contact the reporter at wmg2010@yahoo.com

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