by Wesley Ratko

Nearly two dozen residents came out to Chestnut Hill Hospital Tuesday night to hear a presentation from the Philadelphia Streets Department about the proposed replacement of the Willow Grove Avenue bridge over the Chestnut Hill West commuter line.

Attendees were given the opportunity to vote on one of three bridge design concepts, the principal feature of which is the new electrification barrier at the center of the bridge. One design consisted simply of metal panels and railings, one had more ornate metal panels, and a third featured the station name.

“Tonight, what we would like to come away with is consensus from you, the community, and hopefully we can finalize one of them,” said Chris Menna, assistant project manager with the Streets Department.

Attendees overwhelmingly selected the design that will feature the train station’s name – St. Martins – on the new electrification barrier.

The barrier, which will serve the same function as the large and unsightly metal plate now present on the existing bridge, protects pedestrians from the wires that provide power to the train. Instead of corrugated metal, it will feature raised lettering that will spell out the station name on both sides, making it visible from both the street and the station below.

The Streets Department hopes to begin construction by early next summer on the $3.5 million project that will replace the bridge’s steel structure and concrete parapets. Eighty percent of the cost will come from federal sources, with state and city funding making up the rest.

The bridge is a non-contributing element to both the Chestnut Hill Historic District and the historic St. Martins station building, and the replacement will not impact the protected status of those historic resources.

The new bridge will provide two 10-foot travel lanes with 5-foot-wide sidewalks on either side of the bridge. A new handicapped ramp will provide additional access to the station platform from Willow Grove Avenue.

A 2-inch-thick veneer of Wissahickon schist will be inset into the new concrete structure to allow for a modern structure while maintaining the historic look of the bridge. Samples of this veneer were on-hand for inspection.

Joe Corrigan, director of communications for Councilwoman Cindy Bass, spoke briefly to express the councilwoman’s support for the project.

“We’ve been working very closely with Streets and the consultants since the last meeting, and it seems like things are going in a great direction,” Corrigan said. He invited those in attendance to contact the councilwoman’s office with any questions.

If all goes according to plan, construction is expected to last one year. During construction, Willow Grove Avenue across the tracks will be closed to traffic, but access to St. Martins station will be maintained throughout the project.

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