Pennsylvania State Senator Tim Kearney and Ridley Park Mayor Hank Eberle announced Oct. 15 that a breakthrough had been reached on upgrading the 68-year-old Sellers Avenue Bridge in Ridley Park, paving the way for construction to begin on the long-dormant project.
The structure, which covers Amtrak's northeast corridor track and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's (SEPTA) regional rail line between Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia, has been in desperate need of repairs for years and created unsafe conditions for pedestrians.
Construction on the Sellers Avenue Bridge was scheduled to start in 2014 but has been delayed by the need to indemnify Amtrak. That delay and continued deterioration threatened to close the bridge to motor traffic and shut off a major artery for Ridley Park's local economy.
The small town is in Delaware County, southeast of Philadelphia.
Months of discussions between several state and federal officials and agencies took place before an agreement to indemnify the bridge was announced. Participating In those conversations were Sen. Kearney's office; PA State Rep. Dave Delloso; borough officials in Ridley Park; U.S. Sen. Bob Casey; Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon; and senior representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and SEPTA.
The project got its needed boost when Delaware County Commerce Director Pat Killian and the Delaware County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) agreed to fund $112,000 for the indemnification insurance policy that allows construction activity to commence over Amtrak's right-of-way.
Earlier in the fall, IDA issued funding to the borough for the Amtrak payment, a move that allowed engineers at both Amtrak and PennDOT to resume their design work for the Sellers Avenue Bridge.
No start date for construction, though, has been announced for repairing and upgrading the span, originally constructed in 1904 and rebuilt in 1952.
"Thanks to the hard work and collaboration between state and local officials, I am proud to report we have finally secured the funding to allow construction to begin on the Sellers Avenue Bridge," said Kearney, who represents District 26, made up of parts of Chester and Delaware counties.
"The critical upgrades made possible by this funding will improve public infrastructure and public safety in Ridley Park. As we move this project into the construction phase, I especially want to thank Mayor Hank Eberle and Borough Manager Rich Tutak for their leadership and partnership."
For his part, Eberle was grateful for the guidance and support of Ridley Park's Borough Council, specifically Borough Council President Shelly Dalessio. He described the Sellers Avenue Bridge as a "complex project even before 2014."
Another local official also expressed her satisfaction that everyone involved could get together in making the important bridge improvements a reality.
"The Delaware County Council is extremely grateful to the many parties who have persisted throughout a complex, multi-party process to improve the condition and safety of the Sellers Avenue Bridge in Ridley Park," said Council member Elaine Paul Schaefer. "Vital improvements like this contribute to a better quality of life for our residents and serve to attract economic investment in our county."
The Delaware County Daily Times reported last December that contract consultants for PennDOT in 2012 detailed how the bridge must be lifted by approximately 3 ft., and 5-ft.-wide sidewalks require installation.
Engineers then explained that Amtrak usually requires a clearance of 24 ft. from track to bridge but agreed to a height of 21 ft. Electrical lines under the bridge also must be moved, the consultants reported, and the height increase of the bridge will require regrading of the roadway approaches to the span itself.
Since Sellers Avenue is heavily used by SEPTA commuters, there is a temporary pedestrian footbridge over the railroad tracks. SEPTA's passenger station is on the north side of the bridge.
PennDOT normally inspects bridges on a two-year cycle but due to the declining condition of the bridge, inspections of the structure were put on a six-month cycle in 2019.