Road closings planned during papal visit leave suburban businesses in quandary

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 Pennsylvania state roads that will be closed during papal visit to Philadelphia. (Image via Governor Tom Wolf's office)

Pennsylvania state roads that will be closed during papal visit to Philadelphia. (Image via Governor Tom Wolf's office)

About 40 percent of those filtering into Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ visit will be coming through the city’s western suburbs, according to a survey by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

 

With major roadways west of the city closed for the event, many are scratching their heads about how to get around — and get to work — in the suburbs during the weekend of Sept. 26-27.

Route 1 will be closed from Route 30 to Belmont Avenue. The Schuylkill Expressway, a heavily trafficked portion of I-76, will be closed eastbound from the Blue Route (I-476) in Montgomery County to I-95 in Philadelphia. Westbound, I-76 will be closed from I-95 to Route 1, within Philadelphia.

City Avenue Special Services District, a nonprofit that works with businesses along Route 1, has been knocking on doors to make sure companies are prepared and to find out their plans.

“Nobody has called us to tell us that they’re closing,” said John Collins, director of operations and public safety, who has been doing those surveys.

Pope Francis will visit St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, just off of Route 1.

Some retail and food businesses are planning to stay open, to cash in on foot traffic from the visit, said Collins. That poses its own challenges.

“The pizza shops and the delis … they’re concerned, ‘How am I going to get my people to work? How am I going to get my supplies?’ and all that kind of stuff,” he said.

Some reverse commuters — workers who travel from urban centers to jobs in the suburbs — will have to go much farther than City Avenue during the pope’s visit.

About 20 percent of the King of Prussia mall’s 7,000 employees — many from Philadelphia — take public transit to work.

Rob Henry, executive director of the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association, is working with retailers — including those at the King of Prussia Mall — as well as SEPTA to explore every possible transit option for suburban businesses.

“We’re looking at cycling alternatives,” he said. “Can people bike out?” Henry said his organization is encouraging office workers to work from home for the weekdays effected by the closures, Friday Sept. 25 and Monday Sept. 28.

Other modes, according to Henry, include private shuttle services using large passenger vans. The mall has used these in the past, for example during a SEPTA strike, he said.

Providing those vans will require planning and a substantial financial investment, however. The cost of renting a single 21-person van for one day is $3,000.

Until SEPTA shares its plans for where it will run transit in the suburbs, said Henry, “No one wants to make an investment in private shuttles.”

SEPTA “will begin making announcements and answering questions about transit (buses, subway, and city trolleys) and reverse commutes starting on or about Aug. 24,” according to spokeswoman Jerri Williams, after finishing up the regional rail papal ticket lottery.

Carpooling is another option, although traffic from road closings will likely pose a problem. Alternate routes, such as Montgomery Avenue, are expected to be congested, said Henry.

With so many people expected on the road, Collins said he has a plan B to get to Route 1 during the visit.

“I’ll be driving in as far as a I can,” he said. “If I make it here, great. If not, I’ll have one of my bikes with me and I’ll bike the rest of the way.”

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