PennDOT committee continues I-95 design talks

I-95 overpasses should be well-lit with white lights. The bridges themselves should be painted blue or green, as should the bike lanes.

This was some of the input given to PennDOT by representatives of communities and organizations from Vine Street to Allegheny Avenue at a recent, two-part design charrette focused on the rebuilding of the Girard Avenue interchange.

“We focused the first night on the areas that are coming up for construction first, topics like lighting, the aesthetic treatment of walls, the paint color of bridges and the street scape,” said Elaine Elbich, PennDOT project manager. Facilitators led small groups of Sustainable Action Committee members in round table discussions, with each table tackling its own topic. During the second half of the charrette, held at another meeting,  organizers presented the committee members with a summary of the feedback they had received.

The rebuilding of the Girard Avenue interchange is divided into several phases. The first phase – the temporary off-ramp, known as GR0 – is done. The phase underway, GR1, involves most of the surface street work and relocations. And the next phase, GR2, consists of bridge work on the three I-95 bridges over Shackamaxon, Marlborough and Columbia.

Elbich’s team is now meeting with people from city and state government, as well as Conrail, to check the feasibility of some of the ideas. For example, Elbich said, there are several different texture options for sound walls, and Elbich doesn’t want to design any that Conrail wouldn’t be willing to maintain.

PennDOT folks showed committee members a wave pattern for the wall texture, which they think nicely alludes to the Delaware River. “It seemed acceptable” to committee members, she said. It’s a simple pattern that does not complicate wall maintenance, she said, and that’s good. “We are looking for Conrail approval and acceptance, because they will be doing maintenance and we want to minimize it,” she said.

In coming weeks, Elbich said, her team will meld the feedback they received at the meetings with advice from experts and input from Conrail, the city, PennDOT HQ in Harrisburg and some federal agencies. Schematic sketches showing what the streets, overpasses, lighting, landscaping and other elements can look like together will be distributed to committee members and posted on the Revive95 website sometime in September.

Mostly, Elbich said, the desires expressed by the Sustainable Action Committee so far have been pretty simple and straightforward.

“No one wanted pink lights under the bridges,” she said. “They wanted white lighting, with a city feel that is well-lit, safe, and felt like any street in the neighborhood,” she said. The green and blue colors were favored because they are soothing and refer back to the nearby river, she said. They wanted more trees and landscaping and 10-foot sidewalks.  The committee suggested that in addition to separating bike lanes from the street with white lines, the pavement should be a different color – perhaps green or blue again – to both visually separate them from the traffic lanes and break up the monotony of the pavement.

The Sustainable Action Committee meetings are not open to the public, but members are supposed to give reports to the organizations they represent, and bring feedback and input from those organizations to the SAC meetings.  Elbich and her team have also offered to come to meetings of the SAC members’ organizations to go over what has and what will be discussed. Some communities are taking her up on the offer, and public meetings are being set for this fall.  Check the Revive 95 website for meeting dates – not all have been scheduled yet.

Like the Revive 95 project, the work of the Sustainable Action Committee will go on for years, Elbich said. Things will get much more detailed and complicated in the memorandums of understanding PennDOT will enter into with individual communities that want more or fancier items that what PennDOT’s budget includes. The MOUs will detail who pays for what, and who maintains what.

When it comes to lighting, for example, PennDOT’s budget will pay for street and sidewalk areas. But some communities will want to add additional, or fancier pedestrian lighting, she said. Some will want decorative uplighting, or to outline the bridges in lights.

Charrette participants also discussed establishing neighborhood gateways along Richmond Street at Lehigh and Huntington. These gateways – which will likely be done in other neighborhoods as well, as the project progresses, will include things like extra trees, murals and green walls – walls where plants grow.

At the request of the community, Elbich said, Lehigh Avenue near Richmond will include parallel parking spaces.

In 2009, PennDOT engaged an advisory group to provide options for alternate strategies to address the needs of I-95 in Pennsylvania. The group produced a report titled “Charting the Course for the future of Interstate 95 in Pennsylvania” which covers many options for rethinking I-95.

PennDOT issues RFP for I-95 makeover

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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