The Way I See It
The future of the McBride Viaduct
The McBride Viaduct, which has served Erie residents since 1940, carried traffic between East 12th Street and East 19th Street, along East Avenue. The 1,170-foot-long steel and concrete bridge spans the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.
The bridge, however, closed in 2010 because engineers deemed it unsafe. In a statewide bridge database, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation rates the McBride Viaduct as "structurally deficient" and "functionally obsolete." Neither designation implies that a bridge is likely to collapse, but a structurally deficient bridge is one on which its load-carrying elements are found to be in poor condition because of deterioration. A functionally obsolete bridge is one that was built to standards that are not used today.
For the last few years, there have been ongoing discussions about what is to happen with the bridge. The options include fixing it, replacing it, or tearing it down. The Ebensburg, Pa.-based firm L.R. Kimball and Associates are the consultants for the project. On Wednesday, July 31, in a public meeting of 100 citizens, officials, and project personnel, the decision that was recommended by the consultants was that the bridge should be torn down.
The project would demolish the bridge and create a new Buffalo Road interchange on the Bayfront Connector. It is the least expensive option at $7.5 million and the "preferred alternative," according to a consultant's recommendation to city officials.
Rehabilitating the bridge is the next cost effective option – totaling close to $15 million. But the repairs would only last 20 to 25 years, and this option only pushes the issues down the road, ultimately costing the state and taxpayers even more money in the long run.
Building a new bridge the most expensive option, would cost $25 million. Although a new bridge would last for 100 years, project managers suggest that the cost would not be a prudent investment because the nearby Bayfront Connector also provides eastside access.
Many citizens and elected officials disagree. And thousands of names of residents and businesses are listed on petitions urging that the viaduct be rebuilt.
One of those who support rebuilding the bridge includes City Councilman and local architect David Brennan, who believes that "the McBride Viaduct has provided a vital link for residents and business owners. The closing of the bridge has affected and will continue to affect lower east side neighborhoods and businesses. There is definitely a linkage between infrastructure and economic development."
Although the bridge has been closed to all traffic since 2010, it actually closed back in 2008 to commercial traffic. As for the economic viability argument, the truth is, during those years, there has been no documented economic impact either way.
In addition, the alternative plan is actually probably safer from a pedestrian point of view. The viaduct has a 3-foot sidewalk at best with a 2-foot high guardrail separating the pedestrian from traffic. The Bayfront Connecter was actually designed to accommodate pedestrian traffic alongside of it. It includes an 8-foot multi-use trail with a 4-foot concrete barrier with a railing on top.
Although the detours are slightly longer – the pedestrian detour is one city block, and the driving detour is close to a mile – those are hardly reasons to justify the expense.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization (Erie MPO) conducted a county-wide long-range transportation plan. It was a study that conducted time travel analysis (I know what you're thinking, and no, sadly, not that kind). Rather, it studied the level of traffic and congestion on the citywide and countywide roadway network. The study accounted for the viaduct being closed and showed no substantial impact in terms of congestion or travel delay.
So, here's the way I see it: I believe there's probably a lot of outcry because of the name. Monsignor McBride was a figurehead in our city. And he was loved by many. And I also think the east side of town feels that the city doesn't really care about their interests. That's understandable. But the truth is there are a multitude of bridges that have closed all over the county, and there's no public outcry over them. I think the east side deserves a vast amount of improvements – I just don't know if the bridge is the improvement it needs.
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