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Tunnel Remains in Pennsburg Bridge Replacement Project
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2021-09-01

            Despite objections from Pennsburg officials, a proposal to replace a bridge on Main Street will incorporate a passageway under the structure. Late last month, a manager with the Montgomery County Planning Commission informed an engineer from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that the inclusion of a tunnel is necessary to accommodate a future multi-use trail in the borough.

            Pennsburg Mayor Charlie Shagg expressed his disappointment in the decision. He described the county's proposal to convert a portion of the old Reading Railroad line to a trail as misguided.

            In an Aug. 27 letter, William R. Hartman – the trails and open space planning manager for the county commission – explained that the funds to build the new bridge and trail passageway are secured and ready to use. He states that forfeiting a portion of these funds by eliminating the passageway will not realize an alternative return.

            "County officials have made up their minds and are not going to change them," Shagg said Tuesday morning.

            The mayor said borough officials may have other options to deter the trail development, but declined to discuss them. Shagg encouraged residents to express their opposition to the proposal with the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

            Construction of the new bridge, fully funded by the state, will cost approximately $4.2 million. Work could commence as early as April of 2022, according to Robyn Briggs, PennDOT's community relations coordinator for Engineering District 6.

            An earlier estimate put the cost at $9 million and noted that adding the tunnel will add one month to the project.  The detour route during the project – as presented by PennDOT officials at a 2019 meeting – directs drivers to use Route 663, Hoffmansville Road (New Hanover Township), and Route 73 in Lower Frederick Township. However, it was noted that local drivers will likely use area municipal roads to get from Pennsburg to Red Hill.

            PennDOT uses state roads as approved detours to divert traffic away from municipal or county owned roads to keep motorists and damage to a minimum on local roadways.

            Installation of a design built replacement structure between 10th and 11th streets will lower the profile of Main Street by at least 10 feet and accommodate for the possibility of future multi-use path construction. A new sidewalk will be added on the left side of the bridge. The sidewalk on the other side will be reconstructed, according to an email message from Briggs.

            While the study, engineering and construction of this trail – included in the county's 2040 comprehensive plan, adopted by the county's Board of Commissioners in 2015 – are not imminent, Hartman writes that the opportunity to provide an accommodation for it as part of the bridge project is. He claimed in the letter, which was also mailed to Shagg and Pennsburg Council President Diane Stevens, that the cost to pursue a tunnel in 10 or 20 years "would be much higher with no designated source of funding."

            Hartman writes that incorporating this passageway now will save money. He explained that the cost of boring a tunnel below the roadway in the future, versus incorporating the passageway in the current project "will be exponentially higher due to inflation and pure mechanics."

            In July, Stevens and other council members led a group of visitors – including Hartman and Nathan Parish, a consultant with PennDOT – on a walking tour with the intent of illustrating the impracticality of incorporating a trail into a proposal to the bridge project.

            The council president claims implementation of the trail, which would follow the path of the former rail line, would adversely impact numerous private citizens and even more business owners between 11th Street and Pottstown Avenue. She said the project would create numerous issues related to land usage and rights of way.

            Borough officials proposed rerouting the trail along the Macoby Creek. Stevens said they would like county officials to explore the possibility of connecting it to the Pennsburg Nature Preserve, located off East 5th Street, by running it along Otts Road from 11th Street in Red Hill.

            Approximately 1,700 feet of paved multi-use trails, utilizing the abandoned Perkiomen Railroad right-of-way, has already been constructed in Red Hill Borough. The segment extends from East 8th Street to the Red Hill/Pennsburg boundary and is approximately 650 feet from where the continued trail – intended to accommodate pedestrian and bike access – would cross below the newly constructed bridge, according to the planner.

            In his letter, Hartman also pointed out that future feasibility studies examining trail alignment alternatives will explore all viable options for carrying the Perkiomen Trail Extension to and through Marlborough and Upper Hanover townships as well as Red Hill, Pennsburg and East Greenville boroughs. He stated that although these studies may identify a preferred trail alternative that deviates from this portion of the former Perkiomen Railroad, this railway route "could still serve as a valuable, localized spur."

            According to Ed Reed – the owner of the Reed Sign Company, located at 1050 Main St. – the county's reluctance to relinquish a portion of the trackbed near the bridge, abandoned nearly 50 years ago, has prevented him from adding 10 additional parking spots. Reed also expressed concern about how the county would manage potential issues of loitering on the trail.

            The county does not concur with the assumption that the passageway and a future trail will exacerbate the loitering issue in this portion of the abandoned railway, according to Hartman's letter. It states that "experience has demonstrated repeatedly that trails make communities safer by putting more 'eyes and ears' on the trail area."

            In response to the more immediate concerns prior to the development of the trail, however, the planning commission requests that PennDOT develop options for securing/closing each end of the passageway to prevent entry following construction, according to the letter.


 

 

 

 

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