Enjoy the quiet while you can, reconstruction of Allens Lane bridge to begin in 2014

Mt. Airy residents will get a brief respite from the clamors of construction now that SEPTA’s Allen Lane train station renovation is completed. A ribbon cutting ceremony marking the station’s renovation was held this morning.

But three years from now, towards the end of summer in 2014, construction will start up again. This time, it’ll be the PennDOT-owned bridge that runs over the tracks of the Allen Lane train station.

PennDOT spokesman Gene Blaum said the whole bridge will be replaced. The bridge, built in 1908, is one of six structurally deficient bridges in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy. The final design phase of the construction will begin this summer, and bids for construction will begin in June of 2014. Construction is expected to continue until late 2015.

The three-year gap between the onset of the design phase and the actual construction is not unusual, Blaum said. He also said that there is no reason to worry about the safety of the bridge, explaining that “structurally deficient” does not translate to “unsafe.”

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“If it weren’t safe, it would be closed,” he said.

Starting in late summer of 2014, the bridge will be closed for a year and a half for entirety of the construction. PennDOT will also close the roadway approaches, or the streets around the bridge, as those roadways are also being reconstructed. These detours will affect the 6,700 cars the bridge carries on average per day, a number reported by the Transportation for America report on deficient bridges.

The construction, which will cost an estimated $3 million in state dollars, will take place very late at night as well as early in the morning, Blaum said, since the work must be done when SEPTA trains are not running.

At a Mt. Airy-Nippon-Bryan-Cresheim Town Watch meeting last month, Bob Caden, project manager of the Allen Lane train station renovations, said he had noticed some of the bridge’s flaws.

“I’m not a structural engineer,” Caden said, “but I know enough to know that when I look up at the underside of the bridge, I see daylight.”

The century-old bridge is a vestige of a different time. The high dividers on the bridge were date back to 1918, when the railroad line was first electrified, said Alex Bartlett, archivist and librarian of the Germantown Historical Society. Before then, the trains ran by steam engine. The dividers were meant to protect people from the overheard wires that powered the train, said Bartlett, who actually grew up near the bridge and still lives near there today.

There are two other structurally deficient bridges in Chestnut Hill that are being repaired: one on Willow Grove Ave., which will receive most of its $4 million in construction costs from federal funding, and one on Henry Ave., which will finish construction in the fall of this year.

(Editor’s note: You will notice that spelling of Allens Lane is different in the story and in the photo caption. This is because SEPTA’s station was named Allen Lane, while the road it takes its name from is spelled Allens Lane.)

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