It was way back in April of 2015 when CSX Transportation and Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson first announced the restoration of the 25th Street Viaduct. The restoration of the elevated train line, which hovers above 25th Street in South Philly, was supposed to happen in phases and be completed by 2020. But as you may have heard, it is now 2021, and only the first phase of the project – which was to install protective netting underneath the bridge to prevent slabs of concrete from falling on cars and pedestrians below – has been completed. Phase two, which was to repair and replace the drainage system, was slated to start in 2016, but has yet to begin. As a result, the structure has remained an eyesore. And residents are sick and tired of it.
“The viaduct in general is just in really bad shape from every perspective, from public safety to cleanliness,” said West Passyunk Neighbors Association President James Gitto. “It’s resulted in illegal dumping, and you’ll see construction debris, tires and abandoned trailers under there. It’s been a constant topic every week for our neighborhood association.”
But there might be help on the way … eventually. That’s because Johnson’s office confirmed with SPR that Johnson is scheduled to meet with both the streets department and CSX on Feb. 3 to discuss the holdup. The meeting will not be open to the public.
At a recent West Passyunk Neighbors Association meeting, CSX’s Director of State Affairs, Rodney Ogelsby, shed some light on the delay. He explained that there are issues with traps in the sewer underneath the street that need to be fixed, and both the city and CSX think it’s the others’ responsibility to pay for it.
“There’s some discrepancy about who’s responsible for what,” Ogelsby said, noting that lawyers from both sides will be at the February meeting to help hash out the issue.
The city’s argument goes as follows: “In Philadelphia, any property connecting to a city sewer is responsible for the maintenance of the lateral,” said streets department spokesperson Keisha McCarty-Skelton in an email to the Review. “Property owners are responsible for any repairs to their drainage system and laterals. CSX is aware of this regulation and must provide a schedule on when repairs to the drainage system will begin. The Streets Department has not received a schedule from CSX.”
Johnson said he’s aware of the illegal dumping that’s occurred under the bridge, and noted that he’d been in contact with representatives from CSX periodically since the beginning of the project.
“My primary goal of the upcoming meeting is to figure out who is responsible for the right acts of moving the bridge forward,” he said. “Let’s get down to restoring the bridge.”
He added that he was prepared to use his chairmanship of City Council’s transportation committee as a “bully pulpit.”
“This can be a very exciting restoration project for Point Breeze and Grays Ferry, making the 25th street viaduct a gateway into the community,” Johnson said. “The current condition is totally unacceptable, and you have my word that we’ll advocate to start the process of restoring this bridge.”
In addition to the drainage system, residents have complained about the temporary stop signs along 25th Street, which replaced light signals that were taken off to install the protective netting.
“The stop signs are confusing,” Gitto said. “There’s double stop signs as you’re crossing. It’s just super confusing.”
McCarty-Skelton said that the traffic signals were supposed to be reinstalled after the structure’s concrete was rehabilitated. Since that’s yet to happen, she said, the netting has remained and the light signals can’t be put back up.
“At this point we have not received an indication from CSX as to when the next phase will be completed, and the netting removed. The City is willing to provide the proper traffic signals when the project begins.”
Gitto said that his organization is appreciative of Johnson for putting together the meeting, and that he’s “cautiously optimistic” it will result in some progress.
“I do think that all the right people will be in the room to make things happen,” he said. “It’s a long time coming and everyone wants this to be resolved.”