Residents raise concerns about redesign of historic Northwest Philly bridge

 The latest rendering of the Walnut Lane Bridge project, slated to begin in 2015. (Courtesy of Kittelson & Associates, Inc.)

The latest rendering of the Walnut Lane Bridge project, slated to begin in 2015. (Courtesy of Kittelson & Associates, Inc.)

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s pending rehabilitation project for the Walnut Lane Bridge dominated the discussion at the Blue Bell Hill Civic Association’s general meeting on Tuesday night.

Some 30 members of the community gathered at the Mt. Airy United Fellowship Church where nearly everyone in attendance noted some disagreement over aspects of the current reconstruction project that is slated to close the bridge to all traffic for six months in 2015.

The proposal

The BBHCA has been engaged in dialogue with PennDOT since the overhaul of the historic bridge was announced in late 2012. The estimated $8 to $10 million project will include upgrades to lighting, traffic signage, and bridge framework, as well as a redesign of the roundabout at the bridge’s end.

Several residents in attendance at the meeting were at odds over the current design plan, which includes the proposed installation of two concrete splitter islands or pork chops on Walnut Lane. Some argued that the islands could create bottleneck conditions for drivers entering the roadway from W. Johnson Street, and make it more difficult for pedestrians attempting to cross Walnut Lane.

“Once you’re out of traffic and you’re on the sidewalk trying to cross traffic, no one is gonna stop for those little striped pedestrian lines, so you’re gonna stand there and stand there until you finally make your way across. It’s nuts. It’s much better now than this mess will be,” resident Jan Deruiter said.

Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia consultant Susan Dannenberg said the project is nearing an workable design.

“Actually we’re really happy with the design. It is going along with what is considered best practices for drivers and pedestrians. The biking part is almost there,” she said.

Resident concerns

Other concerns raised at the meeting were the loss of parking spaces for people attending the Mt. Airy United Fellowship Church, and the association’s desire to see more detailed renderings of the proposed design plan.

At previous meetings, group members were encouraged to submit comments and concerns about the project to PennDOT individually. Johnson Street resident Frank Mawson suggested a more unified effort.

“There are some shared objectives with PennDOT. We need to identify what the major issues are, put them in a letter and with the community or the group’s signature on it we can say these are issues that we don’t feel you’ve addressed,” he said. “We have to be unified as a community group and we have to make sure that we’re making reasonable requests.”

The meeting concluded with members agreeing to create and present a unified list of concerns for the PennDOT to consider before a contract is awarded.

While discussions with the group are ongoing, PennDOT has not indicated any changes to the current project schedule.

PennDOT currently plans to award a contract for the reconstruction by early summer 2014. Closure of the bridge and construction are slated to begin spring 2015.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal