The Bridesburg community is in the midst of a major change.
The Philadelphia Department of Streets has embarked on the first new major road creation in more than a decade – the extension of Delaware Avenue.
“Delaware Avenue is going to be a very critical road because it’s going to act kind of like a beltway,” said Joseph Slabinski, the president of Bridesburg’s Community Development Corporation and the Bridesburg Business Association.
The first phase of the project, which began in March, begins on the corner of Lewis Street and Delaware Avenue and extends to Orthodox Street in Bridesburg.
This phase of the Delaware Avenue construction will feature two wide travel lanes for cars, a sidewalk and a multi-use path. In addition to the road, a new bridge will be built crossing over the Frankford Creek.
The multi-use pathway will be connected to a larger green path network according to June Cantor, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Streets Department.
“The project also includes a shared-use path for bicycles and pedestrians and will connect to the recently constructed path from Allegheny Avenue to Lewis Street,” Cantor said. “The trail network being created will be part of the East Coast Greenway.“
The first phase will be done in November 2015. Costs of the first phase of the project are expected to be over $11.2 million.
The second phase of the project will further extend Delaware Avenue from Orthodox Street to Buckius Street in Bridesburg. Construction for the second phase is planned to begin in 2016 and finish in 2018.
Overall the project will extend Delaware Avenue for 0.9 miles along the Delaware River waterfront.
Access to the waterfront or lack thereof has been a problem in Bridesburg, according to Councilman Bobby Henon’s spokesperson Eric Horvath.
“Many residents there have been vocal about getting closer access to the riverfront,” Horvath said. “It helps to alleviate a problem while opening up access to the waterfront.”
Additionally, overflow traffic from Interstate 95 creates problems in the community.
“Whenever there’s a problem up on [Interstate] 95, all the traffic – everybody jumps off and cuts through the neighborhood of Bridesburg,” Slabinski said.
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The extension project aims to open up the waterfront in Bridesburg along with reducing traffic that overflows from Interstate 95 but there have been many moving parts throughout the entire process and it has taken time.
According to Marc Collazzo, the district office manager for Pennsylvania State Representative John Taylor, the project has been in the works for nearly 10 years.
“This has always been discussed,” Collazzo said. “I think with a lot of things it comes to not just good planning and detailed planning, but it comes to money – both federal and state dollars to be able to do this.”
Along with gathering funds and planning, getting traffic pattern information and determining detours were also major parts of the elongated process.
“You’ve got to go through traffic patterns and see where you’re going to send them to, how you’re effecting peoples’ commute to and from work,” Collazzo said. “All of that takes time.”
The origin of the idea to extend Delaware Avenue came from former Congressman Robert Borski, according to both Horvath and Collazzo.
“It’s actually been discussed for a long time, and former Congressman Borski had advocated for [the project] years ago,” Horvath said.
But planning for the project and its projected costs is only part of the process. Getting the actual funds from the state and federal governments can be even tougher.
With the first phase of the project costing $11.2 million alone, where is all of this funding coming from?
In 2013, Governor Corbett signed Act 89 into law, which frees up more funding for highway, road and bridge construction, along with a Multimodal Transportation Fund for “bicycle and pedestrian projects” amongst other things.
“We were able this year in the House and Senate in Harrisburg to pass, really, the first major transportation bill this commonwealth has had for about 15 years,” Collazzo said. “That freed up money to finish what they needed to do.”
Along with additional state funding the project is also receiving federal funding and a small amount of funding from the city of Philadelphia, according to Collazzo.
“It’s mostly federal and state funding,” Collazzo said. “There are funds coming from the city but Delaware Avenue is a state highway.”
With the first phase underway and the second phase planned, Cantor said that a third phase for the extension is still in a preliminary stage.
“The third and final phase will further extend Delaware Avenue from Buckius Street to Tacony Street in the vicinity of Van Kirk Street,” Cantor said. “That phase is currently under study for optimal alignment.”
Overall the project will cause short-term traffic problems but in the long run it opens up a key road for travel along the Delaware River.
“It’ll be a big help all around,” Slabinski said. “It has taken a while, but it will be a very helpful and important road when it’s finished.”
– Text, images and video by Colin Tansits.
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