By Tim Jimenez
NORRISTOWN (CBS) – SEPTA officials say, this summer, they are planning on closing the Bridgeport Viaduct, a 101-year-old bridge at the beginning of the Norristown High Speed Line. They say the lack of repair dollars is to blame and the bridge’s closure could cause a ripple effect for the line’s 2,400 daily riders.
In November 2011, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made a stop at the Bridgeport Viaduct, which takes riders from the Norristown Transportation Center over the Schuylkill River and to the Bridgeport stop, and used it as an example of crumbling infrastructure that could use badly-needed federal funding for repairs.
“We were there standing underneath it, watching it slowly deteriorate,” said Rob Henry, executive director of the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association, a non-profit transportation advocacy group. “SEPTA needs roughly $30 million for a full rehabilitation of the bridge.”
It is just one of the $5 billion in infrastructure projects SEPTA officials say they need to work on. However, with a capital budget of $303 million, a 15-year-low, SEPTA officials say they will have no choice but to close the bridge in the summer, when the heat will cause tracks to expand, making the bridge unsafe. SEPTA officials say they already completed emergency repairs last month, but that won’t be enough.
“We’ve gotten really good in the infrastructure community at putting band-aids on our projects,” Henry said. “But the band-aids only last so long.”
SEPTA officials say they will have to use shuttle buses to take passengers from Norristown to Bridgeport at the beginning of the high speed line.
“We know from a transit perspective if it’s more than a one-seat ride the percentage of people actually taking transit dramatically declines and then you have more cars on the road,” Henry said. “You’re going to have the people that can make a choice and (drive) but there are people that won’t be able to and they’re the ones who are going to suffer. This could add 20-25 minutes on to their commutes and (affect) picking up their kids from school and day care; getting home to be with their families.”
The thought of taking a shuttle bus did not please Rhonda Jackson, who commutes to her job in Norristown from her West Philadelphia home.
“We have trouble in the morning as it is, it’s always late as it is. So, to actually add a shuttle bus? It’s going to really cause more problems,” she said. “I drive sometimes but the cost of gas is really high so that takes a lot out of my pocket. I’d rather take the high speed line than have to pay a lot for gas.”
A SEPTA spokesman says the closure, which could come in late-June, is only for the summer but could be indefinite, depending on a possible funding package from Harrisburg which Henry is hoping and advocating for.
“I think it’s going to be in the first three months of 2013 that we’ll have a pretty good picture,” Henry explained. “If there isn’t something then I think (the Bridgeport Viaduct) will be closed this summer and it will be closed indefinitely. Unfortunately, sometimes those are the kinds of things it takes to change things, but we don’t want it to get to that.”