DRPA sets sights on toll, painting, tunnel and paving projects

Track work on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge isn’t the only thing keeping the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) busy. While the authority is in the midst of replacing the 30-year old rails that carry PATCO trains across the bridge, it is also wrapping up the Walt Whitman Bridge redecking project and planning several upcoming projects, ranging from toll plaza rehabilitation to $100 million painting projects, 5th Street tunnel repairs and more. 

PlanPhilly spoke with DRPA Chief Engineer Michael Venuto to find out what bridge work, in addition to the Ben Franklin Bridge track work, DRPA has planned.

“We’re constantly, no matter which bridge you’re looking at, we’re either upgrading, maintaining or improving our facilities,” Venuto said. “It’s a rolling program that we have here. I believe we’re one of the progressive agencies. We’re always getting out there to try to get to things before it’s a critical time.”

The challenge is to get to maintenance and repair projects before they reach an urgent state for repairs while still managing the projects that are underway. While there is some overlap between the projects, Venuto said DRPA will not schedule projects so that one impacts another. 

“That’s sort of the challenge on our end here,” he said. 

Finishing touches on the Walt Whitman Bridge

Crews are completing the work on the Walt Whitman Bridge deck replacement project. This $140 million undertaking began in August 2011 and includes replacing the seven-lane bridge’s 55-year-old deck with a new jointless deck. The majority of the project is complete, and crews are working on a few remaining punch-list items including final paving and paint work. While traffic flow is essentially back to normal, there are still some temporary daily lane closures. 

In May, the New Jersey Alliance for Action, a non-profit advocate for infrastructure investment in New Jersey, will recognize the Walt Whitman Bridge deck replacement project as a “New Jersey Leading Infrastructure Project.” The work is the second largest capital improvement project DRPA has ever undertaken. 

Walt Whitman toll plaza rehabilitation

Another upgrade is headed to the Walt Whitman Bridge. DRPA plans to replace existing concrete, asphalt and paving around the existing toll booth islands and to repair stairways from each tollbooth into the below-ground tunnel that employees use to enter or leave the booths. The project is expected to cost around $2.75 million and will likely begin this summer, running into next year. 

“It’s going to have some impact to traffic because we’re going to close a couple toll lanes at a time, but we think we have enough toll lanes there … to basically slide the traffic around,” Venuto said. 

Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry bridge painting

Two big painting projects are in store for the Commodore Barry and Walt Whitman bridges. Each bridge will be stripped to bare steel and repainted with a three-coat process. The work costs more than $100 million and will take an estimated five years per bridge. The Commodore Barry Bridge will be repainted first, and that work will go out to bid sometime this year. 

Venuto said DRPA does not typically close many lanes for painting projects, but the work may slow traffic down a bit. 

Bridge approach pavement repairs

DRPA has a long-range goal to resurface the entire length of the Ben Franklin Bridge. That work will happen years from now though. In the meantime, the approach to the Ben Franklin Bridge on the Philadelphia side will see some spot repairs. This spring crews will repair things like potholes and cracked pavement. Venuto said that work will be in the range of $750,000. 

Later this year, DRPA will begin repaving the toll plaza area of the Commodore Barry Bridge. The area hasn’t been resurfaced since 2001. The repair work will cost about $2.3 million. 

Betsy Ross resurfacing project

Crews are expected to begin resurfacing the Betsy Ross Bridge late this summer. As part of this $16 million project, DRPA will remove the existing pavement, repair the concrete deck, mend concrete spalls, fix expansion joints and do some drainage work. This work is expected to be complete by the end of 2015. 

“It’s not nearly going to be as disruptive as the Whitman project was,” Venuto said. “I think this is an easier project for us to accomplish without affecting the public too much.” 

“The important part of this job now is PennDOT is going to be doing a lot of work on the I-95 ramps … so part of this work will be coordinating with them as well,” he said.

5th Street Tunnel repairs

DRPA also has its eye on a $2 million project to repair the tunnel that takes 5th Street from Race to Callowhill streets. Over time the concrete has deteriorated, so the driving incentive is to repair the tunnel’s concrete. DRPA will also install new lighting, make electrical improvements and improve ADA accessibility on either side of the tunnel. 

DRPA is advancing with project design, but Venuto said the project may not go out to bid until some of the other projects have advanced. 

“We’re progressing on the tunnel design, but we might not actually put it out to bid [right away],” Venuto said. 

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