Unexpected detour on Holme Avenue

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had every intention of keeping traffic flowing on Holme Avenue during a 20-month bridge reconstruction project just east of Holme Circle.

But on Monday afternoon, PennDOT surprised motorists, along with residents and businesses of the area, by closing the state highway and re-routing about 22,500 cars a day.

The state agency cited unanticipated structural damage for the closure. That is, the 92-year-old Holme Avenue Bridge is in worse shape than inspectors thought when work began in November on the deteriorating I-beam structure. Work has continued daily since then.

Yet, the road closing also comes in the wake of heavy criticism from area residents who at a recent Holme Circle Civic Association meeting demanded that PennDOT and its contractor address the problems of speeding and reckless motorists in the work zone.

“It does not relate to [those] concerns,” PennDOT safety press officer Jenny Robinson said of the road closing. “Our contractor, when working on the bridge, in taking apart the bridge, in beginning that process, uncovered some pretty serious structural concerns.”

Vibrations caused by workers and traffic could worsen pre-existing cracks in the bridge’s deck and support structure, she explained.

“It’s a necessity to ensure the safety of the public. There is no choice in this,” Robinson said.

Robinson said she was unaware of any complaints by neighbors about speeding or reckless driving in the work zone. She referred all questions about traffic enforcement to the Philadelphia Police Department.

Typically, the bridge is four lanes wide. For the $5.9 million project, the initial plan was to keep traffic flowing with one lane in each direction while crews worked on the inactive two lanes. The work zone stretches from Longford Street to Lewin Place, spanning a Conrail freight railroad.

Prior to the detour, construction of a new box-beam bridge was expected to continue through July 2012. Now that the span is closed to traffic, PennDOT is targeting the end of this year for completion.

During the Holme Circle Civic Association meeting on May 25, neighbors called for a live police presence in the work zone to control traffic. Community relations officer Rudy Muller of the 8th Police District replied that the district had no plans to place a stationary patrol car in the work zone. Patrol cars must remain mobile and available to respond to 911 calls elsewhere, he explained.

Meanwhile, PennDOT’s project manager told residents that the state agency wouldn’t pay for a perpetual police presence for an extended period of time.

At a prior Holme Circle civic meeting, the general contractor for the project, Bob Buckley of Buckley and Co. Inc., 3401 Moore St., Philadelphia, said that PennDOT was required under the contract to pay for additional police if needed at the site. On Monday, Buckley did not respond to a request for comment on the new detour plan.

Robinson on Monday was unable to confirm any specific terms in the contract relating to police coverage.

Also during the May 25 civic meeting, PennDOT’s project manager further told residents that closing Holme Avenue was not an option due to its heavy traffic volume. The avenue is a primary connector between the Interstate 95 Academy Road interchange along Frankford Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard.

Under the planned detour, the avenue will be closed to through traffic between Willits Road and the Boulevard, although local motorists will be able to travel as far as Longford Street going westbound and as far as Lewin Place going eastbound.

All other traffic is supposed to use Willits Road, Welsh Road and Roosevelt Boulevard to circumnavigate the work zone. The detoured stretch of Holme Avenue supports many businesses, St. Jerome’s Church and School and Nazareth Hospital.

“There’s a bar, a hair salon, a deli and a pizza place,” said Joe Razler, board member of the Holme Circle Civic Association. “I’m sure all are going to be impacted.”

Razler was unaware of the road closure until contacted by a Northeast Times reporter and neighbors on Monday afternoon.

The detour figures to place heavier burdens on nearby streets, including Welsh Road, Ashton Road, Pennypack Street and Rhawn Street.

Robinson said that PennDOT sent out notices of the street closing via e-mail and fax to those on its media and government contacts list. A call was placed to Nazareth Hospital. The Northeast Times received notice just one hour, 40 minutes, before the scheduled 2 p.m. closing.

Razler’s Holme Circle Civic Association has scheduled an emergency meeting with PennDOT and the contractor to discuss the impact of the road closure and detour. It will be next Wednesday, June 29, at 7 p.m., at St. Jerome’s School, Stamford and Colfax Streets. All residents and area merchants are welcome to attend. ••

Information about the bridge project is also available on the Internet at www.dot.state.pa.us

Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com