Schuylkill Avenue Bridge in Reading to be replaced

Municipal Reading Council approved an ordinance at Monday’s meeting authorizing the demolition and reconstruction of a bridge in the 400 block of Schuylkill Avenue.

When complete, the new bridge will allow trains to cross the underpass while carrying freight containers stacked two heights – currently only one container can pass at a time.

But while the project was described as required and the wheels were already rolling before the authorization measure was passed 6 to 0, council members and other city officials bemoaned the enormous challenges facing us. wait once construction has started.

Vehicle and pedestrian traffic will be diverted from a major Reading thoroughfare while the bridge is closed – where and how is not yet clear.

A small as yet unknown number of residents and surrounding businesses are expected to be displaced by the project.

And residents on the north side of the bridge, who already live in what is considered a food desert, will see access to the nearest grocery store drastically reduced while the bridge is turned off.

Council members Donna Reed and Johanny Cepeda-Freyitz, whose districts are meeting at the project site, pledged to cooperate and communicate with voters who will be most affected.

“We are going to work with the residents so that everyone is aware, and certainly work with PennDOT for detours because it’s going to have a major, major impact, ”Reed said.

Traffic nightmare

Board Chairman Jeffrey Waltman Sr. wondered how traffic would be directed.

Schuylkill Avenue is one-way south on the construction site, but the nearest roads through the lanes into town – North Front and North Third streets – are both one-way north to ‘at North Fourth and North Fifth Streets, about half a mile east of the construction.

“They’re going to have to split the Front Street Bridge in half,” Waltman said. “We’re going to have to come north and we’re going to have to come south because it’s a huge thoroughfare. This detour will have to be well thought out.

The failure of the bridge will also hamper northern access to the Buttonwood Bridge to neighboring West Reading, as well as access ramps for Route 422, 11/2 miles to the south.

With the Schuylkill River located immediately to the west, there are few ways to bypass the affected area.

Waltman said the project will need to be completed quickly to minimize disruption.

“It’s going to have to be speeded up,” he said. “Even with the detour, it will be congestion 101.”

Timing and other details still unclear

When exactly the bridge replacement will begin, or how long it will take, is unknown.

Reed had expressed hope at a city council meeting in December that the project could be delayed until construction of a new grocery store north of the bridge can be completed.

However, signs pointed to PennDOT and Norfolk Southern, the railway company behind the project, wanting to go faster than expected.

“There are discussions about the possibility of speeding up due to a portion of the funds coming from the Federal Highway Association (FHWA), and I know Norfolk Southern wants to speed up,” said Stan Rugis, director of public works for the city. “I’ve heard so many different times.

“My only concern is the food desert, but time will tell,” he said.

It was also not clear how many residences and businesses would be moved from their properties as a result, although board members determined that PennDOT is responsible for making these arrangements.

Nonetheless, Reed and Cepeda-Freyitz are committed to helping and assisting residents where and how they can.