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Narberth OKs $300K Bridge Repair

An engineering study found the fixed bridge could maintain its 9-ton load limit. Desire to boost downtown businesses trumped concerns about paying for a temporary fix.

The century-old Narberth Avenue bridge will be repaired and reopened to vehicle traffic at a cost of about $300,000, Borough Council decided Wednesday night in a split vote.

The borough's lone north-south connection over the Amtrak and SEPTA train tracks has been closed since late August, when a PennDOT inspection found structural deficiencies.

Engineers from Pennoni & Associates determined that 11 of 25 steel girders have deteriorated and need new steel to bolster them, Pennoni's Craig Suhoskey told council members at Wednesday night's special meeting. Once repaired, the bridge will be strong enough to maintain its previous 9-ton load limit, Suhoskey said.

The borough is planning to demolish the bridge in 2014 and build a new one in its place, a plan that had several council members and residents skeptical about a potential six-figure investment in a bridge whose days are numbered. The average Narberth household would have to pay about $140, to come up with $300,000 from the tax base.

But business owners have pleaded for council to consider how an avoidable longer closure could hurt their livelihoods and the vibrancy of the downtown.

The bridge almost certainly will not be reopened during any of the holiday shopping season; several officials estimated the repairs would be completed in January.

Still, business owners said the old bridge would be reopened long enough to be valuable, since there was no guarantee the new bridge will be underway on time. Officials attribute several years of other delays mainly to bureaucratic holdups with Amtrak and PennDOT.

Five of seven council members voted to fund the repairs: Andrea Deutsch, Aaron Muderick, Sam Quinn, Bob Wegbreit and Bob Weisbord. Council members Michael Alexander and Heidi Boise voted against.

What do you think of this decision? Tell us in the comments section below.

x October 18, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Shoot, I'd contribute $140 a new bridge fund -- IF AND ONLY IF they had a way to build a new bridge that didn't have the blind curve in the middle of it. (And I don't even live in Narberth.)
NB October 18, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Council should reconvene and set a deadline that completes the repair to this bridge in time to help local businesses salvage the holiday season.
SK October 18, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I attended the meeting and, while it was very difficult to hear, only heard residents speak in favor of the investment in repairing the bridge. I heard several council members speak against the repairs, but not residents.
MP October 18, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Who on earth is not shopping in Narberth because the bridge is out? Most people from the outside would come in via N. Wynnewood Avenue under the tunnel if from Lancaster Avenue, or down Haverford Avenue if from Montgomery. How much traffic commercial traffic comes into Narberth over that incredibly difficult to maneuver bridge in the first place? Probably very little. Did Narberth businesses put forth a financial analysis to show how much revenue would be lost during the period of the bridge closure? It doesn't sound like it. Ridiculous! If someone is looking to shop in Narberth it isn't for its convenience by car or copious parking in the first place. It is because the businesses there are unique. People who want to shop in those unique businesses are going to do so whether come by Narberth Avenue or by Wynnewood Avenue. It is silly, in fact. Narberth's businesses would be better served by the Council springing for new parking meters which give 10 minutes of free parking as as allowing for longer stays and easier ways to pay. That is an expenditure that would keep giving to the downtown, instead of pumping over a quarter of a million dollars into a bridge which is going to be torn down and replaced in a couple of years.
NB October 19, 2012 at 12:41 AM
More than 3,000 cars a day pass over that bridge. That's more than "very little".
Michael Alexander October 19, 2012 at 01:27 AM
I wish that timeline were possible. This is what our engineer says: "We estimate that It will take approximately 2-3 weeks to complete the rehabilitation plans, another 2 weeks to finalize contracts with the contractor and Amtrak, 2 weeks to have materials ordered and delivered and approximately 6 weeks to perform the work. This estimate is conservative, we are hoping that it can take less time."
Michael Alexander October 19, 2012 at 01:34 AM
I think you make some good points here. However, there is still an impact on the businesses. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that construction of the new bridge will start on time, especially considering how it's been pushed back before. There's some uncertainty there - could we have a new bridge by the end of 2014, 2015 or 2016? How long is too long to go without this link between north and south sides? I voted against the repairs, because I am more optimistic about the replacement schedule (and think we could figure out a better way to spend $300k) but I can understand the other side as well.
Michael Alexander October 19, 2012 at 01:36 AM
I'll start a Kickstarter :) The new bridge design can be found on narberthcalendar.com, and I think the sight lines are improved. However, I will say that the blind curve makes you slow down, which could be a good thing.
Narbgirl1988 October 19, 2012 at 01:46 AM
I find it incredibly ridiculous that the borough is willing to spend $300,000 to make repairs to a bridge that will be torn down in 2 years anyway! In addition, these repairs are not guaranteed. What will happen next year when they reinspect the bridge and find more damage that needs more repairs? Are we going to dump more money into the bridge then? The bridge is going to be closed when they rebuild it and there will not be an option for a quick fix to open it up. What are the businesses plans when the bridge is being repaired? This is another reason that is driving people out of Narberth. Older people of the town have a hard enough time paying their taxes as it is, now we are willing to increase the taxes by an average of $140? That increase doesn't even take into consideration the entire budget for next year! Finally, I find it extremely contradictory that our Borough council is always preaching the theory "WALK Narberth" and Narberth is great because you can walk, yet they have to open the bridge so people can drive into town! The bridge is open to pedestrian traffic people! How about we try to WALK!
Richard Weisgrau October 19, 2012 at 04:29 AM
I think that repairing the bridge is the correct course of action. I respect the opinions of those who think it is foolhardy to repair when replacement is the eventual conclusion. However, that replacement is years away from starting, let alone completion. The 2014 start date is not specific. It could be December 2014. With a the expected red tape of government that date could easily be pushed back into 2015. I empathize with the mall business owners who have made the case that the closure of the bridge is affecting their sales. Really, they know the facts of their experience when the bridge has been closed before and now. I believe them when they report that the closure is creating a hardship. I also believe that convenience drives where people shop. Cut off my access to a store of my preference, and I might not find a detour if easier access to a similar store is available. I am a small business owner. I do not depend upon walk in traffic or ease of access to make sales. I am lucky. But I do understand how diminished sales for any reason hurt. I believe that we have to support the retailers of Narberth because they give us something that most town lost long ago. It is called Main Street, a place where neighbors but from neighbors rather than in malls filled with merchants who will never learn my name no matter how much I visit or spend there. The main street character of Narberth has to be preserved. Repairing the bridge will help do that.
MP October 19, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Agree 100%. I know not everyone can walk or bike to Narberth as we do all the time, but how lucky for us that there are two other ways over/under the tracks within shouting distance of the Narberth Avenue bridge.
MP October 19, 2012 at 01:38 PM
I think that impact on the business owners is the ONLY thing to consider in this decision. I have not heard the case that they've made to date. I would not accept subjective testimony about their experiences, however, because perception does not equal reality. I would like to see a quantitative report comparing revenues from prior years during the same time periods as the bridge closures, analyzed to adjust for local economic conditions to make the comparisons fair to the businesses. Short of that, it is a matter of "I feel like downtown is dead" versus, "gee, it feels the same to me." That does not provide a basis for decision making. If someone has actually put forth a serious economic analysis, I'd love to see it.
MP October 19, 2012 at 01:43 PM
@NB- I have heard the 3400/day figure from a traffic study, although I have never seen the study. I have no idea how much of that is commercial traffic versus locals using the bridge to cut through to Montgomery Avenue. I have also no empirical basis to believe that people give up when they see a detour sign. Although I would add that I am pretty surprised- given the adamance of many about the importance of bridge traffic to commerce - to see how shoddy the detour is. How about putting some efforts into making the detour more explicit and guiding visitor in a welcoming fashion back to our downtown? Right now, the ugly orange detour sign makes no mention of downtown and the detour on Rockland Ave dies when it hits Wynnewood.
NB October 19, 2012 at 02:49 PM
There's no guarantee that the new bridge would receive clearance from AMTRAK and Penndot, nor is there any guarantee that the bridge, if cleared, would actually start in 2013 or even 2014. In the meantime, there would be no N/S artery. Narberth is an integrated whole and that bridge is necessary to keep both sides together. If addition, no amount of "attractive" detour signage will replace the lost business. People shop where it's convenient. If it's not convenient, they go elsewhere. Those are solid facts. Walk Narberth is a lovely idea, but if there is nothing to walk to, the town will disintegrate.
Narbgirl1988 October 19, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Keeping Narberth as an integrated whole is not an issue. There are other ways for the people if NARBERTH to connect. W are forgetting that if we simply keep the bridge closed, it will still be open to pedestrian traffic! Again, WALK Narberth! We can still WALK over the bridge, under the railroad underpass, or through the tunnel! This has nothing to do with the people of Narberth being able to get into town, it has EVERYTHING to do with people who live out of town and can't use that bridge as a passthrough. If you think about it, most of these people have to come from Wynnewood Rd or Montgomery Ave anyway! There is just less traffic. I simply find it ludicrous that the people of Narberth refuse to walk. Let's conform to the requests of outsiders at Borough Residents expense! The business owners are not complaining that thu won't get borough business, just the outsiders business! If they truly want to shop at a particular store, thy will find a way. And again, I ask the question, what will these businesses do when the bridge is closed when it is being torn down and rebuilt? What is there plan then? There is no quick fix for that, so what will their argument be then?
MP October 19, 2012 at 03:54 PM
@NB - I live on the South Side and I do not find the bridge in any way, shape or form to be necessary to "keep both sides together." There are many ways into Narberth for me, by foot, bike and also car. However, I reject the idea of deciding upon an expenditure of this sort based on either your or my subjective view of what holds the community together. Instead, I would ask for data, and if the business owners are affected by the closings, the data should be there. Nobody shops in Narberth because it is convenient unless - like me - they are walking there most of the time. Narberth is NOT a convenient place to shop with a car. It is hard to park, the meters are unforgiving, and there are too many small, one-way streets. That is true when the bridge is open and when the bridge is closed. Narberth does not offer "convenience" shopping, plain and simple. It offers lovely specialty stores that cannot be found elsewhere, and a wonderful, small town feel. I wouldn't want to see that lost for anything in the world. It is the main reason we purchased a home here. But I am not willing to succumb to hysteria and just assume that the bridge being out for two years is going to ruin Narberth. One would think that at a minimum, Council and the NBA would have made an effort to use the detour to welcome people and would make sure that it doesn't dead-end. Given that even that minimum hasn't been done, it is very hard for me to take some of these concerns seriously.
x October 19, 2012 at 03:56 PM
A significantly thoughtful response. Thank you.
NB October 19, 2012 at 04:35 PM
MP and Narbgirl--you seem to feel very strongly that the bridge is not crucial to the survival of Narberth. Do you feel strongly enough about your opinions to actually use your real names, so that others in Narberth could discourse with you in person? Nora Barry (NB)
Michael Alexander October 19, 2012 at 05:40 PM
MP, I disagree about Narberth not being convenient for cars. I have found Narberth to be very convenient for running errands. It's easy to park within two blocks of wherever it is I have to go, and I can park once and shop several places at once, such as picking up some supplies for dinner at AMP, picking up a bottle of wine, dropping by the pharmacy for a prescription, and Ricklin's for some hardware. I frequently find myself driving into town on my way home from work and find parking quite easily, even though I live only a few blocks away from the stores. While there are some specialty stores that attract people from further away, many of the stores cater to residents by providing everyday necessities.
Michael Alexander October 19, 2012 at 05:41 PM
AFM, not AMP.
Narbgirl1988 October 19, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I feel as though it is not crucial to the survival of the town. I am entitled to my opinion as are you. I live in Narberth and I live on the north side. My best friend for my whole life has lived on the south side and guess what, I walked to her house. I babysat for families on the south side and I walked there too! Amazing! I don't doubt that it will impact the businesses, however, I don't believe that it will be so much that the "survival of narberth" is at stake. Again, I ring up the point that whether we like it or not, the bridge will close when they tear it down and we will be in the exact same situation we are in now, but there is nothing we can do about it! I still wonder what the businesses will do then? No one seems to want to answer that question. If anything, the bridge being closed now with proper detour signage, would be a great way for all those out of towners to figure their way back in town. How can we justify a tax increase of the abov mentioned magnitude without even looking at next years budget, which I am sure will have other areas that require some degree of an increase. Finally, I choose to remain anonymous. Why you might ask? Because I am young and I have lived in this town long enough, my whole life, to know that my young "ignorant" opinion doesn't matter anyway. I enjoy being able to state my opinion without being harassed by people who will always degrade me and tell me I am wrong, when I simply have a different opinion.
MP October 19, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Nora, My name is Michelle Paninopoulos. I live on Rockland Avenue. I am indeed convinced that Narberth can survive two years without the bridge. It is going to have to survive one year without the bridge regardless. The only thing that would really persuade me, as I've said elsewhere in this thread, would be clear data that demonstrates meaningful business impacts. Even then, depending on the extent of that impact, there might be more cost-effective ways to shore up our businesses short of replacing 11 out of 25 steel girders (assuming that is all the repair that ends up being required!) and then tearing the entire thing down in a year and replacing it. My view isn't based in insensitivity towards other people's needs: I'm a South Sider who lives right on the main detour route! Bottom line: we face an unpleasant choice - probably due to some flaws in the Borough's planning process - and now we have to pick the lesser of two evils. I fully recognize that there are a range of issues from "connectness" to fear of impact on downtown business, to emergency vehicle access, to impact on traffic flow at the N/E Wynnewood intersection. I've thought about all of these issues, and in my opinion, they do not argue for repair at this time. I agree with Councilpersons Boise and Alexander.
Jim Speer October 22, 2012 at 04:07 AM
I applaud Borough Council's willingness to spend $300,000 in support of the business district. The only question for me is: Are they spending it in the right place? $300,000 could have bought top notch publicity, downtown planning, signage, welcome entrances to Narberth Borough; even temporary pedestrian attractions on the closed bridge. The entrance to Narberth at Haverford and Montgomery Aves is rather sleepy and inconspicuous right now, and could be a lot better gateway into the downtown. These things could have had lasting positive impact on the business landscape and on our town long into the future. Instead we purchased less than a year's more life tacked onto a decaying bridge. The businesses are already facing at least two Christmas seasons without a bridge (2012 and 2014). This repair seems to hold out hope that there will be a functioning bridge for Christmas 2013, only to be immediately closed again and demolished at the start of 2014. It's too bad Narbgirl1988 wishes to remain anonymous, because her comments and insight are excellent. The business district will indeed have to live with no bridge for at least a year starting in 2014, with no option to conjure up a patchwork bridge to see traffic through. The downtown ought to adapt gracefully - and with a lot of support - to the bridgeless Narberth. The 11-month reprieve for the bridge, while admirable in its show of support, represents a lot of missed opportunities for expenditures with more impact.
Ed Ridgway October 22, 2012 at 01:02 PM
The bridge repair is not just for the businesses. Thousands of cars use that bridge every day. Furthermore, those who attended the meetings know that PennDot finds a 1st quarter 2014 start for the new project unlikely, leaving us in a limbo with a bridge closed indefinitely.
Michael Alexander October 22, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Jim -- Hey, it may turn out that the bridge replacement starts later than we anticipate. The earliest is probably March 2013, but who knows, it could be 2014. Hard to say at what point the repairs actually make sense to make, but the numbers start to make more sense if we use the repaired bridge for two years or more. To everyone -- I'm happy to see a public debate here, but it would have been even better to have these opinions presented at a Borough Council meeting before the decision was made. Making these opinions public AFTER the decision has somewhat less of an impact. Get involved!
Ed Ridgway October 22, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Mike - bridge replacement in March 2013?
Michael Alexander October 22, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Just run this on my comment and it makes sense: s/March 2013/March 2014/g; s/2014/2015/g;
David F December 06, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I have to agree with Michael about the convenience of making short shopping trips from a car, unlike Suburban Square actually. And, although I walk and take the train more than I drive to downtown, since the train bridge has been out, I end up having to take Wynnewood Ave to get home (south side) from Montgomery Ave, e.g. Acme's, and have skipped some shopping stops downtown to avoid looping around, so have probably done a bit less shopping in Narberth while the bridge is out.

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