Mt. Airy residents are not happy about the traffic gridlock around the Philadelphia Water Department’s latest improvement project on West Allens Lane. On Wednesday, February 1, representatives of the Water Department, PennDOT, and contractors faced more than 40 angry West Mt. Airy residents in the upper meeting room of Summit Presbyterian Church at 6757 Greene Street.
They had turned out to the special meeting called by West Mt. Airy Neighbors to voice their dissatisfaction with what they perceived as mismanagement regarding the impact on their neighborhoods from PWD’s 18-month project to replace more than a mile of water mains along West Allens Lane,
The project began in October 2011, and three months later in an early January phone interview PWD spokesman Jeff Digiulio stated that the PWD had received no complaints about the project that he was aware of. But that was before the January 23 closing of a block of McCallum Street at Allens Lane that resulted in nearby side streets being flooded with traffic, according to WMAN Executive Director Marilyn Cohen who chaired the meeting. Complaints starting flooding in to WMAN the first day of the closure, she said later.
Shyam Thomas, PWD project supervisor, first gave a brief overview of the progress of the project so far, which is projected to take from October 2011 to March 2013 to finish. He stated that 5,000 feet of water mains to replace those originally laid down in 1892 had so far been laid down in an easterly direction starting at Wissahickon Avenue. Work had not yet started on the approximately 1,600 feet of mains from Cresheim Road to Germantown Avenue. Much work remained to be done on the stretch with the new mains, he added, including hookup to the houses along Allens Lane and replacing fire hydrants.
While all in attendance seemed to recognize the necessity of the repair work and putting up with inconvenience during the project, those who spoke to the PWD and PennDOT representatives were at best frustrated and at worst furious with what they regarded as a lack of foresight on the part of those organizations as to the magnitude of what that inconvenience would be.
The traffic that immediately started flooding the side streets on January 23 – and the lack of notice of that it was about to come – dominated the list of complaints. “I live on the 500 block of West Mt. Pleasant and now it’s more like I-95,” said one. “It’s been a nightmare. Our block doesn’t have a light and they go 45 along it.” He added that he had received no notice that such a problem could occur, saying, “In terms of communication, you failed.”
His remarks were echoed by many others, among them Ruth Lachman Sueker, who lives on the 400 block of West Mt. Airy Avenue. She said that her block was flooded with traffic seeking a way around the road closure during both rush hours. The problem was compounded by the fact that there were no stop signs on busy Emlen Street at its intersection with Mt. Airy Avenue, backing up traffic waiting to turn onto Emlen all down the block. “Nobody had the foresight to foresee this situation?” she asked. “Come on, guys.”
Another resident of the 400 block, who has small children whose safety he worries for,, said that he had seen frustrated drivers actually drive up onto the sidewalk near his house trying to get around the jam-ups.
The problem was compounded, others noted, by the lack of marked detour routes leaving drivers casting about for their own ways to get around the bottleneck.
A morning rush hour visit to the corner of West Mt. Airy and Emlen streets the next day appeared to confirm their complaints. In five minutes there was one near accident caused by a car trying to cross heavy and fast traffic on Emlen from Mt. Airy Avenue, lots of horn-blowing, and a line of cars and busses that filled the entire 400 block.
PWD and PennDOT representatives did promise quick action on the signage and information issues, stating stop signs and detour markers would be in place by today, February 6. They also said that a website with updated information on the project would be activated that day at http://phillywatersheds.org/alerts. They also stated that the intersection at Allens Lane and McCallum Street would be opened in two to three weeks. Contractor Peter Naticchione said, “We don’t know exactly, it depends on what we find when we dig. “
While that may alleviate the current situation, other residents foresaw one that was likely to arise during the further course of construction between Cresheim Road and Germantown Avenue, and hoped that it would receive more planning than the current road closure apparently had. That is the already congested situation during the morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up of students at Houston Elementary School on the 100 block of West Allens Lane. When that block is closed, said one attendee, “Have you figured out how that’s going to work?”
Following up on that observation, Cohen said to the PWD representatives, “We are asking you to take responsibility for the school situation and notify us.”
Cohen announced that Laura Copeland, public information officer for the PWD, will serve as the contact person between neighbors and the PWD, and could be reached at 215-685-4092, e-mail email@example.com. She asked that WMAN be copied at Marilyn@wman.net on e-mails sent to the PWD.