Cresson Street wall overhaul set to begin on Monday

The Philadelphia Streets Department says construction on a crumbling East Falls wall will soon begin.

On Monday, August 12, reconstruction will begin on a retaining wall that supports Cresson Street along the SEPTA Manayunk-Norristown regional rail line.

A 250-foot stretch of the wall, located between Calumet and New Queen streets, will be rebuilt, as will the adjacent roadway, curb, and sidewalk. A new barrier and fencing will also be installed.

In order to accommodate construction, Cresson Street will be closed to traffic throughout the duration of construction, except for local traffic. Detours will be posted, and street parking will be restricted.

Work on the project will be performed by Buckley and Company, Inc. The price tag of the construction contract is approximately $1.2 million, and is being jointly funded by the City of Philadelphia and SEPTA, which share joint responsibility for the bridge.

Construction is expected to be completed by January 2014.

‘It’s bad all the way down’ 

While users of the Cresson Street viaduct have noticed a gradual decline of the wall in recent years, the problem first came to community-wide attention early last year when Streets Dept. officials began a series of public meetings with the East Falls Community Council aimed at correcting the problem.

In February of 2012, Darin Gatti, chief bridge and transportation engineer for the Streets Department, told community members that preliminary investigations revealed that the entire wall’s structural integrity was compromised.

“It’s bad all the way down,” Gatti said at the time, projecting a six-week process for inspections and design preparation.

In May, Gatti was back before the EFCC with additional details. By then, engineers had determined that the entire wall is experiencing deflection, a rotational movement that compromises the entire structure. He indicated that overgrown weeds, which later metastasized into trees, contributed to the compromising of the original wall’s structural integrity.

Instead of simply replacing the top portion of the wall, this unexpected twist necessitated a complete overhaul of the wall, which extends from above street level to the SEPTA rail beds below.

“This is a much more extensive project than originally anticipated,” said Gatti in a May 2012 meeting. At the time, he presented initial design plans for the rebuilt wall, which met with favorable reaction from the community.

Improvements in the works 

In February, Gatti returned once again to the EFCC, this time with a completed design which was quickly approved by community members.

The plan calls for the installation of a three-and-a-half foot concrete wall with a stone façade, topped by approximately five feet of galvanized steel fencing that would run the length of the wall. The adjacent stretch of Cresson Street would also be repaved as part of the project, as will the trimming of nearby trees and vegetation.

Pedestrian access along Cresson Street will be maintained throughout the duration of the project, but access will be ensured to an apartment complex situated in the middle of the street. Cresson Street will be closed a half-block at a time.

In response to residents’ concern, SEPTA representatives said in February that commuters should experience few effects as a result of the project. Taking advantage of other track outages along the Manayunk-Norristown rail corridor, SEPTA will close the outbound tracks that pass through to the site along with the outbound train platform. The outages will occur only during the daytime, with no expected impact on service.

On Friday, EFCC President Barnaby Wittels said in an interview that he was glad the project had come to fruition.

“We look forward to the job being completed in a proper, efficient, and expeditious manner,” he said.

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