Northeast trestle gets a makeover

Sign of the times: Union painters completed renovations of the railroad trestle spanning Frankford Avenue near Solly Avenue on Aug. 22. The overpass now reads, “Welcome to Holmesburg. The home of the 1687 Pennypack Creek Bridge, America’s oldest roadway bridge. Stop and visit.” SOURCE: HOLMESBURG CIVIC ASSOCIATION

The railroad trestle spanning Frankford Avenue near Solly Avenue is a familiar sight to the thousands of motorists and pedestrians who traverse the centuries-old roadway regularly. But passers-by probably couldn’t believe their eyes after the rusty steel viaduct got its first facelift in anyone’s memory.

Union painters completed the job on Aug. 22 by applying some neighborhood-friendly graphics to the trestle facade. Southbound traffic sees the greeting “Welcome to Holmesburg. The home of the 1687 Pennypack Creek Bridge, America’s oldest roadway bridge. Stop and visit.” The message is similar for northbound travelers, although the word “Upper” has been added to signify that those who pass beneath the trestle are entering Upper Holmesburg.

According to local historian and former Holmesburg Civic Association president Fred Moore, community leaders have been trying to get the trestle painted for a decade or more. But only with the help of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady did the project get done.

Over the years, community leaders contacted various public agencies about the bridge before learning that CSX Corporation, an interstate freight railroad, owns the site. CSX refused to paint the trestle or to allow anyone else to do the job, citing liability issues, said Moore, who also suspects that the rail company didn’t want to have to maintain a new paint job.

In 2012, the community gathered in the shadow of the trestle to celebrate the installation of a historical marker for the Pennypack Creek Bridge. At that event, Brady — who had become the area’s new congressman following the remapping of districts — promised to help with the trestle.

Brady helped arranged a meeting with Moore, Upper Holmesburg Civic Association President Stan Cywinski and the local painters union, which offered to do the work. Eventually, CSX authorized the project, under the condition that the company has no maintenance responsibilities.

The community leaders and painters collaborated on the design. Last fall, the painters applied the light blue base coat, which matches the blue railings of the nearby bridge. But when they tried to paint the graphics, they discovered that their stencils were too big, Moore said. The workers returned to the site last month after obtaining new stencils and coordinating temporary street closures with SEPTA. ••