PennDOT design workshop participants to talk about river connections, new uses for embankment land and viaduct space

At Tuesday’s PennDOT workshop on the reconstruction of I-95 from Shackamaxon to Palmer streets, participants will discuss the future of the three underpasses and the walls and embankments, all part of the Phase II construction that will be put out to bid next year. 

They will also begin a longer and potentially complicated conversation about uses for the space beneath the viaduct, from Palmer to Ann streets, and the reconstruction of Delaware Avenue.

This section of highway is the only portion that is built on fill, rather than held up with support structures, said Planning Group Leader Marian Hull, who works for PennDOT consultant URS Corp. and is running Tuesday’s session. 

“Unlike areas further north where you can get under the highway all along it, the only places where you can get under here are the underpasses” at Shackamaxon, Marlborough and Columbia streets, Hull said. That means the underpasses are the only potential gateways to connect the neighborhoods west of I-95 to the river – a big goal of the city and the waterfront master plan. Meeting participants will talk about what the walls of the underpasses should look like, and how they should be lit to make them “welcoming and safe,” Hull said.

With the underpasses and all portions of the project, PennDOT wants to see what neighborhood groups, agencies, the city and other entities have planned, so that at the very least, the work PennDOT does won’t have to be torn apart and redone to make way for future goals, Hull said. It may be that PennDOT puts in wiring for future lighting, for example, she said. If an entity has a plan and funds, Hull said, PennDOT would like to work in tandem.

Columbia Avenue, which hits Delaware Avenue at Penn Treaty Park, is set under the waterfront masterplan to become a key connector street, similar to what is happening with Race Street and the Race Street Pier, Hull said.  So this underpass will certainly get “special treatment,” she said.

Tuesday’s discussion will also look at the walls and embankments that face neighborhoods along the highway in this section, Hull said. In earlier, broader discussions held last year, neighorhood residents have already indicated they want the walls to be “greened up” with plants.  Now, the embankments are fenced off an unusable, Hull said. But PennDOT wants to work with residents to see if they would like to create small green areas or parks there, using land scape elements to keep people from entering the highway itself. The neighborhoods would have to assume responsibility for keeping these areas clean, she said.

PennDOT will examine the feasibility of the ideas – structurally and financially – and come back in two weeks with a proposal for how the underpasses and the walls and embankments would be treated, Hull said.

Also on Tuesday, discussions will begin on the reconstruction of Delaware Avenue and the river connections, and the space underneath the viaduct, from Palmer to Ann streets. Plans won’t come forward for these projects, part of phases IV and V, for some time, Hull said, but PennDOT wanted to start the discussion, as the plans will be more complicated and involve additional agencies.

The first meeting will be held at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Skybox@2424 Studios, located at 2424 E. York Street in Fishtown.  The second meeting is set for the same time and place on May 17.

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