Preservationists see viaduct as growth catalyst

Local News

ERIE, Pa. — As time runs out, people were fired up about plans to tear down the McBride Viaduct.
The Jefferson Educational Society hosted the Viaduct Town Hall on Tuesday with Erie CPR, the community group that has led preservation talks.

Currently, people use the bridge to walk or bike over railroad tracks and an industrial area around East Avenue, between East 12th and East 19th streets. PennDOT, however, has pointed west to the Bayfront Connector and its multipurpose trail as the alternative. 

Rev. Charles Mock of African-American Concerned Clergy said the nearby route does not justify planned removal of the viaduct.

“Why do we use redundancy (as an excuse) when it comes to poor people?” he asked as he presented.

The condition of the bridge and the costs and feasibility to repair and maintain it are at the center of discussions for razing it. 

Estimates for restoration costs range from $2.5 million to $6 million. Former Erie County Councilman Jay Breneman suggested that if the city supports preservation of the bridge, revenue generated from the county’s recently approved five-dollar vehicle registration fee could be used.

“The $1.4 million dollars we’re going to raise year after year–that has not been allocated for any project,” he said.

On Jan. 11, Erie Mayor Joe Schember told that after speaking with people on both sides of the issue, he believes the bridge should come down.

“I’m still open to talking about it, but I believe the right thing to do for the city is to get it torn down,” he said. “It just costs too much to repair it. We have a good north-south access with the pedestrian walkway on the Bayfront.”

Erie City Councilwoman Kathleen Schaaf disagrees. “Walking is not that safe crossing the street,” she told the crowd, a possible reference to pedestrians having to cross East 12th Street at the Bayfront Connector.

Beary Clark, vice president of Erie CPR, added, “That’s the reason why the bridge was built in the first place. It’s about the safety of our children.”

Some residents said the viaduct bridges a community that was bisected by transportation routes. A few of them see the McBride Viaduct repurposed as not only a pathway for the community, but an attraction for the region.

“I know for a fact that the artistic uses of that space are enormous,” said Erie resident Bill Lacey, who said he was on the bridge as a kid when it was dedicated in 1938.

Charles McKinney, a New York-based urban planner said, “It certainly could be an arts bridge. It could be an outlet of venues of great note.”

PennDOT is reviewing seven bids from construction firms. The low-bidder was identified as Swank Construction from New Kensington, Pennsylvania earlier this month. The firm bidded $1.45 million dollars. PennDOT said it could take up to two months before a contract is awarded.

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