Neighbors plan to fight new bridge in Somerton

Somerton Civic wants to maintain weight and commercial truck restrictions on Byberry Road.

Weighing in: The bridge on the 2100 block of Byberry Road has a three-ton weight limit that prevents tractor-trailers and other commercial trucks from accessing a residential stretch of Byberry Road. TIMES FILE PHOTO

The Somerton Civic Association is gearing up for a fight over a new bridge that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation plans to build on Byberry Road.

Large commercial trucks are central to the issue. SCA President Chris Bordelon told neighbors during the civic group’s June 13 meeting that PennDOT will build the new bridge to accommodate all vehicles, regardless of weight, and that the state will impose no weight restrictions on the bridge.

The new structure will span a freight railroad midway between Evans Street and Worthington Road. It will replace a steel truss bridge that has served the same span since 1996 with a three-ton weight limit that prevents tractor-trailers and other commercial trucks from accessing a residential stretch of Byberry Road.

Bordelon said he spoke via telephone to a PennDOT official who confirmed the agency’s intention and told him that the agency would conduct a public meeting next fall to discuss the project. In a subsequent call to Bordelon, the PennDOT official requested a mailing address for the civic association and information about other affected community groups. The official also said that PennDOT planned to notify the public about the meeting and via a newspaper posting.

In late May, Bordelon wrote an email to PennDOT asking for the meeting schedule and for any documents or details the agency has regarding the bridge. He has received no reply.

But on Monday, the Northeast Times learned from a confidential source that PennDOT is planning a public meeting for much earlier than originally discussed. It is set to occur on Thursday, July 20, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at MaST Community Charter School. The state agency will also hold an informational meeting for the area’s elected officials on the same night at MaST. It will start at 5 p.m.

During his conversations with agency officials, Bordelon said he was told that PennDOT doesn’t build bridges that cannot handle all roadway vehicles, including heavy trucks. Bordelon replied by asking why it was OK for the agency to install the three-ton-limit bridge in 1996. PennDOT has always considered the steel truss a temporary structure.

PennDOT has proposed replacing the bridge several times since then as part of various plans for the extension of the Woodhaven Road expressway. But the state agency hasn’t been able to reach a public consensus on any Woodhaven plan. In the meantime, the steel truss bridge has been added to the state’s list of structurally deficient bridges.

The bridge is 140 feet long and has two spans. It handles about 20,000 vehicle crossings per day.

In seeking support for keeping the “no trucks” designation, Bordelon contacted U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, state Sen. John Sabatina and state Rep. Martina White, whose districts each include the bridge site.

During the SCA meeting, Boyle aide Nick Himebaugh reported that despite the structural capability of a new bridge, Byberry would remain a city street, so it would be up to the city to enact a “no trucks except local deliveries” designation. Bordelon said he doubts authorities would be able to enforce such a restriction without a weight limit.

Will Patterson, an aide to White, said that PennDOT legally can’t build a bridge for vehicles less than 40 tons. But after it’s built, PennDOT would surrender ownership to the city.

“We are working with Councilman (Brian) O’Neill to determine what restrictions could be placed on the bridge,” Patterson said.

“The restriction we want is a three-ton weight limit,” Bordelon said. “I think the civic association was pretty clear on that at our last meeting (in May). We’re looking for help from the elected officials to achieve that.”

Mike McAleer, an aide to Sabatina, said that the senator would be willing to help the SCA get a guest speaker from PennDOT to attend a future civic meeting. The group is next scheduled to meet on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Walker Lodge 306, 1290 Southampton Road. ••

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