SEPTA bus project strays off route amid protests

Posted: January 29, 2013

A BITTER DISPUTE between a group of Wynnefield residents and SEPTA over recent changes to the Route 52 is headed for a dead end.

The disagreement is over a shorter loop that would travel down residential areas behind Saint Joseph's University to save SEPTA more than half a million dollars a year.

Residents said they are concerned the route changes, which took effect Jan. 14, will put their homes in jeopardy.

"Clearly, the houses were not made for that," resident Randy Watson said, referring to recent construction involving heavy machinery that he said shook the foundation of many of the houses. "A lot of the houses are settling. We all have cracks in our houses.

"You're now talking about an 18,000-pound bus. . . . These buses are coming down 24/7," he said.

The new route uses Wynnefield and Cardinal avenues to reach City Avenue and the layover location for the buses on 54th Street.

The previous turnaround used Belmont and Conshohocken avenues, which had been used since 2004 after an expansion by St. Joe's eliminated the previous turnaround location.

SEPTA said the changes will save about $670,000 annually, mainly from a reduction in fuel.

Charles Webb, SEPTA's chief officer of service planning, said the agency has put several measures in place to address residents' concerns. Those include not stopping on Wynnefield or Cardinal avenues, only traveling northbound on Wynnefield, and a vibration-monitoring device to determine whether there is any effect on the structure of the houses. The agency has also imposed a 15-mph speed restriction for buses, 10 mph below the normal limit.

But neighbors were not satisfied. About 100 residents blocked a bus on Jan. 14, the first day of the changes, which led Commonwealth Judge Idee Fox to grant a temporary injunction.

City Councilman Curtis Jones, who opposed the new turnaround, said SEPTA needs to explore alternatives.

"We need [SEPTA], and many people rely on that mode of transportation to get to work and to school and the like, but the point here is, is there a better alternative to that route?" he asked. "And I don't think we've explored that to its fullest extent."

One alternative suggested by neighbors would have used Overbrook Avenue and 52nd Street, but SEPTA said it has an agreement with residents on those streets limiting the amount of bus traffic. Another alternative was Bryn Mawr Avenue, but SEPTA said that proposal is not as cost-efficient as its current plan.

Webb said SEPTA has also looked for private space to lease, but has been unsuccessful.

The silver lining for neighbors is that the changes have not been made permanent. SEPTA must decide by January 2014 if it wants to keep the new configuration, at which time it would have to conduct public hearings and get board approval.

" @ChroniclesofSol

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