Residents express concern about Lenape Bridge, traffic worries
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
POCOPSON — After more than two decades of plans, debate and discussion, it appears that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is prepared to begin work on replacing the bridge on Rt. 926 over the Brandywine Creek at some point in early 2015.
PennDOT officials unveiled detailed plans for the $8 million bridge replacement plan Wednesday night at an open house event at Pocopson Elementary School, attended by more than 100 local residents, township officials and officials from the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.
In addition to replacing the 77-year-old bridge, the roadway on either side of the bridge in Pocopson and Birmingham townships will be raised, to cut down on the number of incidents of flooding that close the road — currently an issue multiple times a year. Additionally, PennDOT expects to replace the culvert for Radley Run, which is further east along Rt. 926 with a twin-arch design to better improve water flow into the Brandywine.
If all goes as planned — with funding now finally locked in, paid for in part thanks to the passage of Gov. Tom Corbett’s transportation bill in 2013 — construction work could begin in early 2015, with the bridge and roadway expected to be closed for 18 months, or roughly until the end of the summer of 2016. Creek Road in Birmingham, is only expected to be closed for the final phase of the project, as the culvert is replaced with the new twin-arch span.
Earlier plans for the bridge replacement did not address the flooding issues at the span, which has been closed for flooding somewhere between three and nine times a year over the last couple of decades.
The new design, according to Charles Davies, Assistant Director for Design for PennDOT’s District 6, would have only been closed for flooding three times in the last 22 years: Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and last week’s deluge. He noted that with the new design, which raises the roadbed by some nine feet, with the new design, the flood-related closures could be reduced to just hours, whereas the old flooding closures were multi-day events at times.
The old bridge, built in 1937 and refurbished in 1974, is a steel structure, 26 feet wide and 190 feet long. The new bridge would be more than 300 feet long and offer five-foot wide shoulders in each lane.
Davies said that the design needed to “thread the needle” because of the need to deal with flood waters, traffic and preserve local historical sites adjacent to the bridge and roadway.
Although there were questions on everything from management of flood waters — and concerns that the new structure might cause additional flooding north of the bridge — much of the concern from the public seemed focused on another structure about a mile north of the current bridge: the Lenape Bridge on Rt. 52, where much of the diverted traffic would likely end up in the event of an 18-month closure of the Rt. 926 bridge. PennDOT officials suggested that the official detour route would use U.S.-1 and U.S.-202 — but many local residents said they thought that was unrealistic.
Multiple residents also noted a number of issues, highlighted since the closure of Rt. 52 for the ongoing installation of the roundabout at Unionville-Lenape Road, with both the narrow, crater-filled Lenape Bridge, as well as the nearby intersection of Rt. 52 and Pocopson Road.
A number of residents pressed Davies and his colleagues over two specific issues: the installation of a traffic light at Rt. 52 and Pocopson Road and limiting tractor trailers from the Lenape Bridge, due to width concerns as well as worries about the geometry of the intersection on the east bank of the roadway, where Birmingham and East Bradford border.
While Davies assured that the issues “could be looked at,” and that if it was shown, once construction starts, that a light is needed, it could be added quickly, a number of residents seemed to want stronger assurances that PennDOT would be more proactive. Already, it was noted, that during the morning rush hours, traffic is backing up along Rt. 52 as far south as the Lenape Pizza shop — a distance of about a mile. As traffic is currently being split between the two bridges, a closure of the southern bridge could lead to much worse back ups, already described by more than one resident as “gridlock.”
Pocopson township officials say they’d like to see a traffic light installed at the Rt. 52/Pocopson Road intersection, but Davies said that had not been his understanding until Wednesday night, and reiterated that the light could be put in if necessary.
“If it’s needed, we’ll provide it,” he said.