Delaware/Columbus traffic study to be released in July; DRWC gets updates on other waterfront projects

The long-awaited Delaware River Waterfront Corporation traffic study on Delaware Avenue and Columbus Boulevard is set for public release in July.

“It has suffered from many delays over the past six or eight months, but we’ve gotten to a point where we do have a draft document from the consultants,” Delaware River Waterfront Corporation Planning Director Sarah Thorp told the board. The city streets department had comments on both the traffic light timing and multi-modal transportation portions, she said. “Once the consultants incorporate them into the draft, we will release the draft to the public, and also set a public meeting.”

That meeting should take place sometime in July, before August vacations. “We think it’s important to get that stuff in front of people who have been asking for it for a long time,” Thorp said.

“What’s a reasonable expectation for the first round of traffic signal changes?” asked DRWC President Tom Corcoran.

“Well, frankly, it’s up to the streets department,” Thorp said. But it shouldn’t take them longer than a day to complete the signalization changes.

Thorp said the hope is that drivers won’t endure the stop-and-start of lights with bad timing, but ensuring that drivers get all green lights isn’t the right answer, either. That would promote speeding, and that is “not the best situation for people trying to cross the street, or for bicycles in the lane next to the cars,” she said. The study recommendation will be a balance between “how efficient we want the street to be versus how safe do we need the street to be.”

DRWC staff reported to the board on a list of other waterfront projects:

-The Penn Street Trail, which will connect Spring Garden Street with the section of the Central Delaware Waterfront Trail that runs behind SugarHouse Casino, will open by the end of May 2013, said DRWC Vice President for Operations Joe Forkin. DRWC has had informal discussions about trail plans with the streets department, and is in the process of submitting information for a formal review, Forkin said. DRWC hopes to change the direction of Penn Street, which now runs both north and south, to a north-bound only street. This will require a city ordinance. Thorp has had meeting with residents of Waterfront Square and Northern Liberties, who responded favorably to the plans. A meeting has also been set up with Fishtown Neighbors Association, she said. SugarHouse is partnering with DRWC, and will build the section of the trail that runs through its parking lot to DRWC’s standards. 

-DRWC now controls 15 acres of waterfront land behind Walmart that it plans to incorporate into a wetlands park. Read more on the donations that led to this here. A press conference to officially announce the acquisition had been planned for earlier this week, but was postponed when Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter couldn’t make it due to the First Lady’s visit to the city, and First District Councilman Mark Squilla couldn’t make it due to budget hearings. The formal announcement is now expected to take place in July.

-Progress continues on the second phase of the Race Street Connector project, but DRWC has yet to obtain an easement from the Delaware River Port Authority. There have been “positive discussions,” toward that end, Forkin said. The project will put improvements similar to those on the south side of Race Street, between 2nd and Delaware Avenue, on the north side, and also provide a way for pedestrians and bicyclists to safely cross the I-95 ramp. Forkin said the goal is to get the project out to bid in December, and begin construction in Spring 2013. Once construction starts, it should take about three months, he said.

-A public meeting on the Columbia Avenue Connector and associated projects will be held at 5:30 p.m., June 19, at the parking lot at the corner of Girard and Columbia avenues. At 5:30, New Kensington Community Development Corporation will unveil new decorative “light columns.” Then everyone will meet the artist chosen to do the public art portion of the Columbia Avenue Connector project, Donald Lipski, who will present some ideas to the public. DRWC and Studio Bryan Hanes, the landscape architect firm working on this project, will also make a presentation and seek public input.

The design for the first portion of the project, from the underpass east to Delaware Avenue, has already gone to PennDOT, as PennDOT will build much of it when it rebuilds that area as part of the Revive 95 project, Thorp said. Hanes and DRWC are seeking public input on the second section, from the underpass to Girard Avenue. Leading up to the meeting, DRWC and NKCDC are going door-to-door to talk to avenue property owners about the tentative plans, since they include sidewalk improvements and street trees on or in front of some properties, Thorp said.

-Forkin said an RFP seeking a design/build consultant for the second portion of the Washington Avenue Green project – the part that will stretch over the pier itself – should be released Friday or Monday.

-The section of the multi-purpose waterfront trail that now leaves the waterfront for a jog through the Sheet Metal Workers Union parking lot will soon be rebuilt at the river’s edge, Corcoran said.  “The previous management would not allow us along the river,” he said. “We have now gotten an agreement that will allow us to straighten the trail.” The work will be done in July, he said.

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