PennDOT to replace Byberry Road bridge

Construction ahead?: PennDOT wants to replace a weight-limit bridge on the 2100 block of Byberry Road. A new bridge may give commercial trucks access to a residential neighborhood. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Regardless of any progress on the newly revived Woodhaven Road extension project, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has one specific project on its immediate agenda.

PennDOT is considering replacing a bridge on the 2100 block of Byberry Road that has served for decades as the primary barrier to large commercial trucks accessing a residential section of Somerton.

State Rep. Martina White said during the monthly meeting of the Somerton Civic Association on April 11 that PennDOT is evaluating a replacement bridge project, which if approved could enter the construction phase within two years. Historically, Somerton residents have been vehemently opposed to replacing the existing bridge, which has a three-ton weight restriction and spans a freight railroad owned by CSX. PennDOT officials have said that the bridge was originally installed as a temporary structure and must be replaced to meet roadway standards.

MaST Community Charter School sits just east of the bridge, while a Public Storage facility is just west of it. Beyond the storage yard, Byberry intersects with residential Trina Drive and Worthington Road. The tree-lined Byberry Road also passes Comly Elementary School, several more intersections, a couple of senior apartment buildings and more homes before crossing Bustleton Avenue. During rush hours, traffic routinely reaches a standstill on Byberry, even without truckers using the road as a primary through route.

PennDOT reports that about 48,000 vehicle traverse Woodhaven Road daily east of Roosevelt Boulevard (U.S. Route 1), while about 20,000 vehicles use Woodhaven west of the Boulevard, exiting or entering the highway via Evans Street. Further, about 26,000 vehicles traverse Bustleton Avenue (State Route 532) near the Woodhaven extension right-of-way just south of Byberry Road.

Replacing the Byberry bridge has been on PennDOT’s agenda for years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the state agency included the replacement bridge as a component of various proposals for extending Woodhaven Road from its current terminus near Evans Street westward toward Bustleton Avenue and Montgomery County.

In early 2008, PennDOT floated a plan to extend Woodhaven as a parkway-style road that would use the replacement bridge to span the railroad. Under that plan, Byberry Road would have become fragmented, ending in roadblocks on both sides of the railroad. There would’ve been no weight limit on the new bridge.

The Somerton Civic Association joined other community groups in opposing all variations of the parkway idea that year. Folks in the city’s Westwood section and Montgomery County didn’t want an extension that would bring truck traffic to their front doors. Somerton didn’t want trucks on a surface-level street and didn’t want school kids forced into a circuitous daily commute.

PennDOT ultimately put Woodhaven Road plans on hold. A city planner revived discussions of the parkway concept late last year as part of the Philadelphia 2035 long-term planning project. Planner Greg Waldman’s Far Northeast Districts draft plan includes a section dedicated to new public reactions to the parkway idea. The City Planning Commission was scheduled to review the draft plan at a public meeting on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the bridge replacement has remained on PennDOT’s radar. The project will be in pre-engineering and design for the next several months, White said. The federal government is paying for 80 percent of the design work. The state will pay for 100 percent of construction as things stand, but that’s subject to change.

In unrelated meeting business, the SCA members voted 78–4 to back an expansion plan for Philadelphia Academy Charter High School at 1700 Tomlinson Road. The school is seeking a zoning permit to build a 600-square-foot greenhouse for a new biology and life sciences program. In addition, the school will convert a wood shop into a biotechnology lab.

PACS occupies an 86,000-square-foot converted industrial property.

Also, SCA President Chris Bordelon announced that demolition is planned for the landmark former Nabisco tower at Roosevelt Boulevard and Byberry Road. Demolition will begin in May and last six to seven months. A portion of the property will be redeveloped as a Wawa store, while a sneaker warehouse and distribution center will continue to occupy another portion of the former snack food bakery. There will be 17.75 more acres that have not been committed to specific redevelopment. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.