Walnut Lane Bridge overhaul meeting scheduled for Tuesday

A Northwest civic group that is taking the lead with regard to the pending closure of the Walnut Lane Bridge is sponsoring a public discussion next week that seeks to bring together numerous officials and stakeholders in the project.

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, the Blue Bell Hill Civic Association will host a community meeting about repairs to the bridge, featuring representatives from PennDOT, the Streets Department and SEPTA to speak about their agencies’ role in the bridge project.

As reported by NewsWorks, a $7 million overhaul of the historic bridge is planned. The project will remove and replace the bridge’s half-mile roadway, improve lighting and signage, and repair drainage systems and eroded slopes beneath the bridge.

The bridge is scheduled to be closed in the process, requiring approximately 16,000 cars a day to take a 3.5-mile detour via Wissahickon, Midvale and Henry avenues.

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The final design of the project will occur during the spring and summer months of 2013, with finalized plans scheduled to be in place by July. Work on the bridge will commence afterward, with the bridge’s closure slated to begin in spring 2014 and continue for approximately nine months.

Getting the facts 

John Dixon, a resident of Blue Bell Hill, which sits at the eastern foot of the bridge along the Wissahickon woods, is leading the initiative for the civic. He’s been in contact with PennDOT project managers and laid the groundwork for Tuesday’s meeting at a prior BBHCA meeting in October.

“This is a fact-finding meeting,” said Dixon. “We want to find out from PennDOT the impact of the design, and how far along the final design is.”

Of utmost concern to Dixon was the bridge’s closure, which could potentially have adverse effects on both traffic and nearby businesses. While the commercial footprint in Blue Bell Hill is limited, many in the largely residential neighborhood travel to Roxborough and Manayunk for shopping and services.

In addition, Dixon noted that residents in need of emergency care are often serviced by medic units based in Roxborough.

“That’s a big-time concern,” observed Dixon.

Also of concern was the rerouting of SEPTA bus lines that use the bridge.

“The number to watch is 65,” said BBHCA president Ron Goldwyn in October, in reference to a major bus route that uses the bridge. SEPTA personnel will be on hand to discuss the impact of the repair work for transit users and discuss rescheduling.

Streets Department officials will also be present to talk about possible conflicts with repairs to Lincoln Drive that could take place during the bridge’s closure.

Seeking community input 

While PennDOT spokespersons previously said that the agency intends to go forward with a complete closure of the bridge as planned – a partial closure to accommodate a single traffic lane could swell costs and extend the timeline of the project to as long as two years – project managers and consultants are scheduled to be present at the meeting.

With the help of staff from the offices of Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. and Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Dixon said that almost thirty civic and commercial associations have been invited to participate in Tuesday night’s discussion, as the impact of the closure is sure to be felt beyond the borders of BBHCA’s boundaries.

“We want to find out how we can incorporate the community into the plan,” said Dixon.

The BBHCA meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at the Ark Christian Worship Center,located at 701 W. Johnson St., facing the Walnut Lane Circle. For more information, visit the civic’s website

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