Motorists' Headaches Not Over Changes, Work On River Drive

Posted: September 13, 1989

For Philadelphia motorists, the nightmare may continue.

Just as they await the scheduled completion of the Schuylkill Expressway reconstruction project later today, plans already are in place to convert West River Drive from a one-way entry or escape route during the morning and evening rush hours to a two-way thoroughfare all the time, beginning Monday.

Montgomery Drive, Neill Drive, the Falls Bridge and Calumet Street also will be made two way 24 hours a day.

Compounding the difficulties, West River Drive will be closed for repairs

from the Sweetbriar cutoff to Eakins Oval for two weeks, beginning Monday, Streets Commissioner Alexander L. Hoskins announced yesterday.

All the changes have been timed to coincide with the end of reconstruction work along the 21-mile Schuylkill Expressway. The contractors, IA Construction Corp. and Buckley & Co., have until Monday to remove all traffic restrictions. But state Department of Transportation officials were confident yesterday that, barring rain or other misfortune, they would remove the restrictions later today, marking the end of the four-year project.

The repairs on West River Drive are being made to the surface of the bridge that crosses the Schuylkill and leads to Eakins Oval, in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This work was delayed with the expectation that there would be fewer traffic disruptions once the expressway was reopened, and that motorists who used West River Drive as an alternative could return to the Schuylkill. Others will be detoured to Spring Garden and 34th Streets.

Much of this work is being done in the name of safety, but city officials acknowledged yesterday that traffic gridlock could be the result - at least temporarily.

"It's going to be difficult for two weeks," said Joe Syrnick, city Streets Department chief engineer.

Transportation officials already have indicated that completion of the $225 million Schuylkill reconstruction project would not guarantee an easy glide into Center City. The plans that Hoskins announced yesterday for West River Drive seemed to suggest those officials were right.

One-way restraints on West River Drive have been in place since 1956, giving rush-hour motorists as many as four lanes to get into and out of the city. Traffic during weekdays is one-way inbound between 7 and 10 a.m. and one-way outbound between 4 and 6:30 p.m.

City transportation experts say a primary reason for returning to two-way traffic on West River Drive all the time is speed - too much of it.

"This is a return to the normalcy and the understanding of what that drive should be, which is a drive and not an expressway," said Denise Goren, city transportation director.

According to city officials, motorists speed, weave and generally compromise the safety of the roadway during rush hours. They make it difficult to enter Fairmount Park and even more difficult to enjoy a peaceful respite once there.

In addition, Hoskins noted in a statement to the media, the signs that inform motorists of the restrictions of one-way traffic are not easy to read. Drivers get confused. And the entire operation requires police at 11 intersections four times daily, at a time when officers are in demand elsewhere.

For similar reasons, the Streets Department moved to eliminate the one-way rush hour at least once before. In 1981, the department recommended its abolition, because of a high rate of accidents that were attributed in part to confusion among motorists who were uncertain when the one-way restrictions

went into effect.

Despite the department's recommendation, though, then-Mayor William J. Green decided to keep traffic one way during peak hours, which was fine with some members of the Fairmount Park Commission.

This time, the park commission has approved the change to two-way traffic, and Gerard Ebbecke, Streets Department chief traffic engineer, suggested yesterday that this was because "they realized they wanted to return to a park setting."

He said the two-way traffic pattern had been approved for 90 days and would become permanent if it works. To make that more likely, the city is installing new traffic controls at certain intersections, posting signs and timing the six signals on Kelly Drive to accommodate the expected traffic increase.

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