PennDOT’s I-95 overhaul is advancing through the city and bringing unique changes and challenges to each of the neighborhoods it passes through. Last week, PennDOT held an informational meeting in the Bridesburg neighborhood to share preliminary design plans for an upcoming construction phase and to solicit public feedback.
The meeting focused on the section of I-95 from Wheatsheaf Lane to Levick Street. This section will be widened into four travel lanes, but it is the associated ramp and nearby street changes that have the project’s neighbors worried. Residents were quick to voice those concerns at last week’s meeting.
For the Wheatsheaf Lane to Levick Street portion of the I-95 project, the proposed ramp and infrastructure changes include:
- Building new ramps over I-95 to connect the Betsy Ross Bridge and Aramingo Avenue
- Building new ramps to connect the Adams Avenue Connector and Aramingo Avenue to I-95 and Betsy Ross Bridge
- Building a northbound I-95 off-ramp to Aramingo Avenue at Orthodox Street
- Removing the existing southbound off-ramp to James Street and constructing a new southbound off-ramp to Tacony Street
- Removing the existing I-95 northbound Bridge Street/Harbison Avenue off-ramp
- Removing the existing I-95 southbound on-ramp from Aramingo Avenue
PennDOT’s plans will change the local street network as well. Those changes include:
- Widening Aramingo Avenue from Frankford Creek to Duncan Street to three lanes in each direction
- Widening and reconstructing Aramingo Avenue from Duncan Street to the Amtrak overpass north of James Street
- Converting Tacony Street into a one-way road from Aramingo Avenue to Margaret Street
- Converting Orthodox Street into a two-way road from Aramingo Avenue to the terminus of the new Orthodox Street off-ramp
- Closing Pratt Street from Tacony Street to James Street
- Closing Wakeling Street from Aramingo Avenue to Tacony Street
- Relocating Carver Street
The work will begin at the project’s Wheatsheaf Lane end, where PennDOT is in the beginning of final design and right-of-way acquisitions. In this section two new ramps over I-95 will be built between the Betsy Ross Bridge and Aramingo Avenue. Construction is expected to start here in 2015 and continue for three seasons, wrapping up in 2017.
The rest of the project is broken into six additional sections. Construction for each will be phased in over the next seven years.
The PennDOT open house was intended to share the initial final design plans and to get community feedback. It was immediately evident that the Bridesburg community has a lot of questions and quite a few concerns about the project.
For starters, many are concerned about plans to construct a northbound off-ramp to Aramingo Avenue at Orthodox Street, in large part because they do not want more truck traffic on residential streets.
“If we had a show of hands right now, you would have 99 percent of this room against the ramp on Orthodox Street,” said one longtime resident.
“Leave our streets alone,” he said. “We only have three ways into our neighborhood and three ways out.”
Aramingo Avenue, which will be widened, is another area of concern. The widening will happen on the I-95 side of Aramingo Avenue, which is primarily industrial. When the project is complete, Aramingo Avenue will have three travel lanes in each direction, a shared central turning lane, bike lanes on either side of the street and buffered sidewalks.
Some residents asked about Richmond Street, one of the four roads into and out of Bridesburg. At the moment Richmond Street is notoriously busy and difficult to turn onto. Richmond Street will not be addressed during this project, but PennDOT and the City may work on it as part of a separate project.
There were questions about ground shifting and sink holes that might be caused by the construction.
“There is extensive geological investigation being done,” said Thomas Kerins, who will oversee construction management on behalf of Urban Engineers, Inc. and who led a presentation during the open house.
Kerins said PennDOT is spending “a lot of upfront, early money,” to make sure the ground is stable and does not contain any hazardous materials.
Some residents who live adjacent to project sites asked if it is safe to demolish infrastructure that close to homes.
“Demolition can be a very specific operation when it’s done right,” Kerins said.
For specific and site-based questions or questions that warranted longer explanations, Kerins asked open house attendees to fill out a comment card.
“You deserve an answer,” he said. “You’ll get an answer. Whether you’ll like the answer or not, I can’t tell you today.”
State Representative John Taylor stepped forward to add that, “the process and the reason for tonight is to get input and not just make a presentation of what’s going on.”
“The comments, I don’t want you to think these folks… aren’t taking them seriously,” Taylor said.
Open house attendees asked why designers did not consult community residents before this point in the planning process. Kerins countered that there was a meeting held five years ago at Frankford High School. Community residents were quick to criticize that location as disconnected from the Bridesburg community.
Kerins said that because PennDOT is beginning final design there is still time to adjust the plans, at least to a degree.
“These plans can be tweaked,” he said. “They’re not going to be scrapped.”