Two major bridges in Reading are going to be undergoing a makeover beginning in the fall of 2014. The Buttonwood Street bridge will go under construction first, and will be fully shutdown this fall until its estimated completion in fall of 2016.
Immediately following the Buttonwood Street bridge completion, the Penn Street bridge will be undergoing construction until winter, 2018. The Penn Street bridge will be open during construction, but some lanes will be closed including the ramp from 422 Westbound to Penn St. which will be closed throughout the project.
These two bridges account for over 48,000 vehicles a day traveling over them to get into or out of Reading. According to Gail Landis, Vice President of Government and Community Relations for the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce, the Buttonwood Street bridge is in terrible shape.
According to Landis, the Penn Street bridge isn’t in as bad shape, but Landis, along with Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, knew both bridges needed repairs. Landis says she and Barnhardt put together a work group to discuss what could be done to keep the economy and community vibrant during these two major bridge construction repairs.
”We wanted to put a group together to let people know about the construction and projects,” Barnhardt said. Barnhardt says that his biggest concern was that he didn’t want people to be saying things like “why didn’t you tell us about this or let us know” once the construction gets underway this fall.
The work group that has been comprised by Landis and Barnhardt includes Berks County Planning Department, PennDOT, the City of Reading and West Reading, Commuter Services as well as BARTA. A representative from BARTA says that they are aware of the upcoming construction and are ready to help commuters in Reading. BARTA says they will be even more ready once construction gets closer because they will have a more concrete, strategic, plan in place.
“These are historical bridges. There is no reason not to rehabilitate them,” Barnhardt said. He says that this type of construction comes with some inconvenience for people, but it is worth it in the end. He and Landis, along with everyone else involved in the work group are doing their best to spread the message about the construction because they don’t want people to have excuses not to come to the community.
“Everywhere and anywhere we can get the message out there, we are,” Barnhardt said referring to the Bridges Work Group. According to him, they really want people who aren’t daily commuters to know about the construction too so that they still feel comfortable enough to visit, eat and enjoy entertainment in Reading.
Landis says they have been, and are in touch with, Santander Arena and other businesses in the Reading area in order to keep them aware and updated with construction plans, and what is going to be, or can be done, to help keep customers and visitors flowing through the area and city.
Landis describes the awareness efforts of these bridge projects as a public-private type of relationship where the county represents the public and businesses, Santander and the Chamber represent the private part. “It’s people coming together to help better the community,” Landis said referring to everyone working together to get the job done
The work group headed by Landis and Barnhardt is preaching ideas such as park-and-ride, public transportation, and car pooling as alternatives for visitors and daily commuters who will be affected by the bridge construction. Landis says they also want to use social media and PSA’s when possible to keep the community updated and aware of the construction projects.
“I think it will expand the community at large, visitors, business people and others,” Landis said referring to the construction of the two bridges. “The bridges must be updated to keep pedestrians and drivers safe,” she added. She and Barnhardt are working closely with Commuter Services of PA, utilizing things such as a survey and scatter map.
The scatter map, according to Matt Boyer who is the Executive Director of Commuter Services of PA, tells where commuters are coming from every day to go to work, so that they can help them find a person to drive with to work if they live close to each other. This would help limit traffic during the construction of the bridges.
Boyer says the main goal is to get single occupancy vehicles off the road by encouraging drivers to use things like car pooling and public transportation because they limit traffic and improve air quality. Boyer and Commuter Services also has an online survey to figure out where commuters work, when they start, if they’re aware of the projects and if they would be willing to use public transportation.
Landis says this will help to determine employee travel patterns and develop alternative options during the construction of the bridges. Boyer says that the survey results will also help to confirm ideas already thought to be useful and eliminate any that may not be as helpful to commuters as originally thought. According to Boyer they have had 500 responses already and expect many more.
To fill out the survey go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5J2963H and for more information on the upcoming projects visit ReadingBridges.net. There will also be project updates on BCTV’s “County Connection” program periodically, and on bctv.org as the construction dates get closer.