Viaduct demolition plans face resistance

ERIE, Pa. -- Plans to tear down the McBride Viaduct are met with pleas to save it.

PennDOT and City of Erie officials held an open house Wednesday at East Middle School. They discussed demolition of the McBride Viaduct and plans for future changes.

The plans, however, are meeting resistance. Although the bridge--which carries East Avenue--closed to vehicular traffic in 2010, pedestrians still use it.

"I'm very concerned about the children that are now at East Middle School,” said Erie resident and community activist Cynthia Muhammad. “Those are young children that are going to be coming in the area and walking this area, and the traffic is so fast."

The alternate route for pedestrians is the Bayfront Bikeway, along the Bayfront Connector, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Bill Petit, district executive of PennDOT, said, "The Bayfront Connector provides for vehicular access to this area of Erie, and it also provides pedestrian access. So, in that sense it's a redundant feature to have the McBride Viaduct."

Changes to accommodate the additional foot traffic include sidewalk expansion around East 12th St and East Bayfront Parkway. The combined cost of sidewalk work and deconstruction of the bridge is expected to cost around $2.4 million.

John Shubert, an Erie resident who lives near the McBride Viaduct, said, "By the time they get done adding the extra sidewalks and add-ons, we could have actually put a new bridge up."

The City of Erie hired Transportation Services as the consultant. The firm’s project manager, Brian Krul, said rehabilitating the viaduct was not a feasible option. He estimated that repair work would cost “five- to six-million dollars. When you look at maintenance and ownership issues, too, that increases it in years to come."

Some residents have expressed frustration over the decision to demolish the viaduct, but some members of the community were hoping to bridge the divide.

Anne McCarthy, OSB, coordinator of Benedictines for Peace led a Silent Peace Walk over the bridge Wednesday night.

She said the monthly walk is important, “especially when we feel overwhelmed by tensions, by violence, by injustice, by problems that seem overwhelming. It's been a helpful nonviolent practice."

As the group took their meditative walk over the bridge, some people at the open house felt their own voices were not loud enough.

"I don't think they're going to listen,” said Erie resident Mary Jackson. “That's why I really wish that they would hold on demolishing the bridge until the new mayor comes in. Maybe he'll listen to us."

Current plans call for a construction bid to be awarded by March and the first work to begin in spring. East Avenue would reopen in fall 2018.

The ERIE CPR group will hold a protest walk. The "March for Safety" is planned for Saturday, Oct. 28 at 10 a.m. at East 12th Street and East Avenue. Organizers request that participants wear a safety vest or yellow, orange or red clothing.

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