Cresson St. wall repair project is ‘much more extensive’ than engineers expected

Members of the East Falls Community Council voted on Monday to approve preliminary plans to replace a crumbling wall that jeopardizes both vehicular and rail traffic.

The compromised stone wall, which is parallel to the SEPTA Norristown train line and extends from the Cresson St. viaduct above Midvale Avenue to the Calumet Street Bridge, will be replaced by a concrete wall with a stone formliner façade, similar in design to the Germantown Ave. Bridge.

Estimated cost for the project is approximately $1.5 million, which will be shared by the Streets Department and SEPTA, who share responsibility for the property.

Darin Gatti, Chief Bridge and Transportation Engineer for the Streets Department, explained that he only sought approval on Monday for the design, not the final project.

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“Right now,” he said, “we want to have some idea that we’re heading in the right direction architecturally.”

An ‘in-depth inspection’ 

The crumbling wall was first brought to the community’s attention at a February EFCC meeting, which resulted in an investigation by the Streets Deptartment into the existing wall’s condition.

At the time, Gatti projected a six-week process for inspections and design preparation. At Monday’s meeting, he related that Streets Deptartment staffing issues delayed the project. Gilmore and Associates, a Delaware Valley-based civil engineering and consulting firm, was retained to assist with the project.

“They did an in-depth inspection of the wall,” he said. “What they found was not what we were hoping to find.”

Instead of simply replacing the top portion of the wall – which is visible via Cresson St. – engineers determined that the entire wall is experiencing deflection, a rotational movement that compromises the entire structure.

This unexpected twist will result in a complete overhaul of the wall, which extends from the street to the SEPTA rail beds below.

“This is a much more extensive project than originally anticipated,” said Gatti, who signaled interest in incorporating a nearby stairway leading from Midvale Ave. to Cresson St., currently in lamentable condition, into the wall project.

The aesthetic element

Along with structural concerns, consideration was given to the replacement wall’s aesthetic features.

Two designs were presented, one of which was a utilitarian concrete replacement. The second was a concrete wall with a formliner and concrete cap.

Support for the latter was sounded by Gatti, who said that the “Mica Schist” color scheme of the design will not only be more attractive but will also complement the design of the nearby Calumet St. bridge.

“It has the impression of stone,” he said, adding that stone walls no longer meet traffic safety standards.

While reaction to the design was largely favorable, residents asked whether or not trees would be incorporated in the replacement.

In response, Gatti indicated that overgrown weeds, which later metastasized into trees, contributed to the compromising of the original wall’s structural integrity.

“Whatever it was, it wasn’t supposed to be there,” he replied.

Next steps 

In the coming weeks, Gatti will meet with SEPTA representatives to share the results of the meeting and discuss future steps while, at the same time, determining where the city will find funding for its $750,000 share of the repairs.

Going forward, Gatti agreed to return before construction begins with details of the engineering plan. In the interim, he encouraged community members to inspect the aesthetically similar Germantown Bridge, and reaffirmed his willingness for community participation.

“Before we begin construction,” he said, “people will know what the impact is going to be.”

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