Another major bridge renovation project planned for Holme Avenue

More than 16,000 motorists who traverse Holme Avenue each day will have to navigate a construction-related bottleneck next summer and autumn as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation repairs a century-old bridge spanning a tributary stream of the Pennypack Creek.

It will be PennDOT’s third major bridge project on the same 1.2-mile stretch of the avenue in the last six years.

Leaders of the Holme Circle Civic Association briefed residents about PennDOT’s plan for the concrete arch bridge over Wooden Bridge Run during the civic group’s monthly meeting on Jan. 25. HCCA President Mike Fagan, Vice President Linda Colwell-Smith and Corresponding Secretary Elsie Stevens each took part in PennDOT’s “consulting party” meeting for the project earlier this month at Nazareth Hospital.

Construction could begin as early as August and is expected to continue for four to five months, Coldwell-Smith said. Holme Avenue will likely be reduced from four lanes to two lanes through the construction zone. If history is any indication, the zone may stretch for more than 1,000 feet from Longford Road to Lewin Place.

In November 2010, a PennDOT contractor set up the same construction zone to rebuild an I-beam bridge over a nearby Conrail freight railroad. Less than 200 feet separate the bridges.

At the time of the earlier project, PennDOT claimed that Holme Avenue served 22,500 vehicles per day. Now, the state agency cites a figure of 16,724 vehicles per day.

The bridge over Wooden Bridge Run was erected in 1921 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its engineering significance as an example of an urban concrete bridge embellished to imitate stone. It is 86 feet long and 80 feet wide, featuring a 54-foot-wide roadway and two 10-foot, six-inch, sidewalks.

It is rated in poor condition with significant superstructure deterioration with cracks of up to one-half inch in thickness, as well as hairline cracks. The substructure is rated in fair condition although it is also cracking. Previously, PennDOT repaired the undermining of an abutment. The agency has also noted that the existing concrete balustrade railing does not meet safety standards for its ability to withstand a vehicle crash.

PennDOT’s contractor will replace the bridge’s earthen and cinder fill material with lightweight concrete. The contractor will also replace the concrete slab that sits on top of the bridge, as well as its asphalt surface. The concrete railing will be repaired or replicated with a precast concrete system. Remaining structural elements such as wing walls, the arch barrel and abutments will be repaired.

Although the bridge’s sidewalks were replaced as part of the 2010 bridge project, they will be removed and replaced again as part of the new construction work.

PennDOT has not disclosed an estimated cost for the project, which is in the bidding phase. According to Colwell-Smith, the state agency plans to award the construction contract by the end of June, with work to begin 45 to 60 days later.

PennDOT’s November 2010 bridge project took 11 months to complete and was two months ahead of schedule, but there were setbacks. Initially, the state agency planned to keep keep two lanes open to vehicle traffic. But in June 2011, the state agency abruptly closed all four lanes, citing worse-than-expected deterioration of the bridge, which was built in 1919. The project cost taxpayers $5.8 million.

The third major PennDOT bridge project took place from August 2014 through last July and involved a complete rebuild of the Holme Avenue intersection with Roosevelt Boulevard. Formerly known as Pennypack Circle, the reconfigured intersection carries vehicles straight across the Boulevard between Holme and Solly avenues. The work cost $16.8 million to complete and snarled traffic for about 22,000 vehicles daily. ••