Mount Airy: Delayed Bridge Construction Means Continued Stress for Commuters and Residents

The construction of the Allens Lane Bridge, on the corner of West Allens Lane and Cresheim Road, is an ongoing project affecting the residents of West Mount Airy.

Replacing the bridge has been more complicated than originally expected. Before construction began, the Allens Lane Bridge connected Germantown Avenue to Lincoln Drive and was one of the only two-way roads running the length of West Mount Airy. The bridge crosses SEPTA Regional Rail’s Chestnut Hill West Line, and construction has been careful to not disrupt train traffic.

Construction began on the bridge on May 8, 2019 and it will remain closed until fall of 2020, when construction is supposed to be finished. Construction was supposed to be completed by this December.

“Allens Lane is currently closed and detoured between South Cresheim Road and North Cresheim Road and is on track to reopen late summer 2020,” said Chelsea Lacey-Mabe, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “The contractor continues weeknight operations and some weekend work may be scheduled to facilitate additional progress.”

The renovation consists of a full replacement of the actual bridge and reconstruction of the traffic lanes. The shoulders and sidewalks will be widened with the addition of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible ramps on the sidewalks. The ramps that lead to the SEPTA station will also be replaced. 

According to a statement by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the project’s budget of over $4.6 million is being funded by the state. Road-Con, Inc, the contractor carrying out the work, did not return requests for comment. 

Jerry Williford, a barber who works at the corner of Mt. Pleasant Avenue and Lincoln Drive, has some concerns on whether or not the construction is getting done. 

“I don’t understand some projects that start and nobody works on it,” said Williford. “Plenty of days I’ve passed and no one’s there.” 

When SEPTA suspended weekend service throughout September to take care of overgrown foliage on the line, that brought extra work days to help catch up on the project. On various Saturdays, crews demolished large sections of the bridge while passing kids and families watched from the SEPTA station’s pedestrian overpass, about 30 feet away. 

Much of the construction has been happening overnight to keep from interfering with SEPTA service and redirected traffic around the bridge.

“The majority of the old bridge structure was removed from the area above the tracks during the three weekend closures of SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill West Line, significantly reducing the amount of work that needed to be completed during overnight hours,” said Lacey-Mabe. 

Since the bridge is closed for reconstruction until its completion next year, traffic is being redirected. Allens Lane is a major artery between Germantown and Wissahickon avenues, and commuters have had to change routes and plan for inconveniences.

“There’s a lot of traffic on Lincoln Drive,” said Isabella Fries, who works at EVO Brick Oven Pizza on Mt. Pleasant Avenue. “On the Mount Airy Facebook page, they complain a lot and take pictures of it.”

The local community has mixed feelings about the ongoing construction and the inconvenience it has caused. Some residents expressed confusion about the logistics and timeline of the bridge repair and the way it coincides with roadwork throughout the neighborhood.

“There’s not necessarily good communication going on,” said Adam Cottman, who works at the High Point Cafe at the Allen Lane Regional Rail stop. “I think that’s the main problem. Most of the residents aren’t aware of how long the construction is supposed to go on.”

The streets nearest the bridge — West Mt. Airy Avenue, West Durham Street, and Nippon Street — are all torn up and in the process of getting repaved. Occasional utility work of Mt. Pleasant Avenue will also slow traffic on the nearest east-west artery through the neighborhood.

“Most people have found an alternate route,” said Cottman. “But between that and how they’re also ripping up the streets, there’s been a lot of confusion on what’s open when.”

While the obstruction to Allens Lane and the subsequent detours may be a nuisance, the bridge was long due for restoration.

“The existing bridge, built in 1908, was structurally deficient in overall poor condition and could longer be efficiently maintained or rehabbed,” states a project description written by PennDOT and shared with Philadelphia Neighborhoods by Michael Holva, the project manager for the bridge repair.

A project description from PennDOT, detailing the plans for the bridge and the need for the construction.

Jennifer McGuire, a resident who has lived in Mt. Airy for over 20 years, has experienced the difficulties of the construction.

“There have been changes in traffic patterns,” said McGuire. “It’s about as backed up as I knew it would be.”

A commuter walks toward the pedestrian bridge over the Allen Lane train tracks.

Still, many residents, like McGuire, may be temporarily inconvenienced but are also optimistic about reconstruction.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve walked across that bridge,” said McGuire. “It was always very colorful. I’m sad to see that gone, but it really needed doing. I’m happy to see it done. Road work is inconvenient but what can you do?”

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