PHOENIXVILLE — Crossing the Schuylkill River bridge between Mont Clare and Phoenixville on bike, or on foot, will soon be much safer.
In order to keep a project 20 years in the making on track, Phoenxiville Borough Council voted 7-1 Tuesday night to spend $100,000 toward the cost of a project to widen the sidewalks on the bridge.
The purpose of the $1.4 million project is to improve access to the Schuylkill River Trail.
Councilwoman Dana Dugan says she has concerns. Many benefit, but we have to pay $100,000. Asks why other municipalities are not also contributing. Council President James Kovaleski says Montco, Chesco, Upper Providence will be asked to contribute.— Evan Brandt (@PottstownNews) July 10, 2019
Councilwoman Dana Dugan cast the vote against the move, saying she questioned why the borough should be fronting $100,000 with no pledges of funding from the other municipalities that will benefit — Chester County, Montgomery County and Upper Providence Township.
But Board President James Kovaleski said he is willing to take that risk and seek contributions from the other three "on the back end," in order to keep the project moving forward.
The project calls for narrowing the travel lanes for vehicles on the bridge in order to widen the sidewalk that crosses on the bridge on the north side to nine feet.
That will leave room for a concrete barrier between the vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists.
When complete, the widened path will provide a crucial link between where the Schuylkill River Trail, traveling upriver from Valley Forge to Mont Clare, crosses the river into Chester County, where a completed portion of the trail in Phoenixville has already been completed.
Eventually, the plan is for the Schuylkill River Trail to extend more than 100 miles from Philadelphia to the river's source near Schuylkill Haven in Schuylkill County.
With the Phoenixville link complete, the only unfinished portion of the trail from Philadelphia to Reading is a four-mile stretch between Parkerford, in East Coventry Township and Pottstown.
Last October, Chester County announced plans to complete that section of trail in 2020 and the crossing back over the river into the Pottstown area has already completed.
It was included as part of the new Route 422 bridge between Kenilworth in North Coventry and Armand Hammer boulevard in Lower Pottsgrove.
In April, officials cut the ribbon on a long-delayed crossing of Norfolk-Southern tracks in Pottstown along Industrial Highway which means that portion is officially open as well.
The story of the connection from Mont Clare to Phoenixville goes all the way back to 1999 when the borough received a $760,000 grant to get the project moving, Borough Manager E. Jean Krack told council Tuesday night prior to the vote.
Last year, Public Utility Commission approved plan to take trail beneath train tracks. Low bid in June left project $300,000 short, says Krack. pic.twitter.com/IEImGpvr2R— Evan Brandt (@PottstownNews) July 9, 2019
In 2011, the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association used a $50,000 grant from the Delware Valley Regional Planning Commission to conduct a feasibility study of the plan.
In 2015, Phoenixville received a $481,900 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the project and design began in 2016.
Further complicating the project is the fact that although no changes were planned to its bridge over Bridge Street, the trail crossing also must pass beneath the Norfolk Southern freight rail tracks on the Chester County side.
That meant involving the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said Krack.
"If you see what we have to go through to get some of the little projects around here done, you can just imagine the red tape involved with Chester County, Montgomery County, Upper Providence Township, the borough, the state, Norfolk Southern and the Public Utility Commission involved," Krack told the council members by way of explaining why the project has taken so long.
Last year, PennDOT and the PUC approved the plans for creating an eight-foot crossing beneath the railroad with bollards and a chain to protect walkers and riders.
PennDOT also approved additional funding, but even with that, when the lowest bid were opened earlier this month and came in at $1.4 million, the project was $300,000 short of the amount of money available.
Krack said PennDOT offered to cover $200,000 of that gap if Phoenixville could come up with the other $100,000.
Tuesday night they did.
Kovaelski also notes that Phoenixville will be the destination. Says he is willong to put monty forward, and hopefully get some money on the back end. Councilman Edwin Soto says he is often asked when it will get done. Vote 7-1 to go ahead.— Evan Brandt (@PottstownNews) July 10, 2019
Kovaleski said the fact that Phoenixville is "the destination" for most of those using the trail is reason enough to make sure the project gets started as soon as possible.
Councilman Edwin Soto said he is frequently asked by residents when this project will see the light of day.
Kovaleski also said getting the project done is a safety benefit as well. "It's quite a harrowing experience to go from the trail over the bridge as it stands now," he said.
One rider who does that all the time, a Royersford resident who identified himself only as Dom, said he crosses the bridge two or three times a week on his bike.
"It's not the best. We have the sidewalk, but there have been times when there are two or three people on the sidewalk when I have been forced to go onto the shoulder," he said.
"I mean it could be bigger. If this sidewalk took up this shoulder, it would be fine," he said.
This article first appeared as a post in The Digital Notebook blog.