ErieCPR President, Architect Adam Trott debunks City Hall misinformation in a March 2018 Facebook Live event.
"What has been lacking in Erie far too long is robust political participation in the political processes that lead to well-informed decision-making by elected and appointed political leadership. The fact that the vitriolic tone to many conversations regarding this bridge should grieve all citizens and elected officials." - Rev. Dr. Charles Mock
MARCH 5, 2018
Ten Talking Points about the MCBRIDE VIADUCT, East. Ave. Bridge
1. Viaduct’s key role in connecting the City OF ERIE, PA
EXISTING CONDITION: Located on southern shore of Lake Erie, Pennsylvania’s only Great Lakes coastal city -1.5 hours east of Cleveland -2 hours north of Pittsburgh -2 hours west of Buffalo. Served by Interstates: I 90, I 79 and arterial highway 290. Served by Railroad that divides city in half (north/south) about 16 blocks south of the lake. The City crosses the railroad tracks with the following overpasses, underpasses and at-grade crossings:
Westside of Erie - about 3 miles wide, there are 9 connections over/under the tracks:
On grade: Pittsburgh Ave, Greengarden Blvd, Raspberry St, Cascade St
Underpass: Liberty Ave., Cherry St., Sassafras St., Peach St.
Eastside of Erie - about 3 miles wide, there are now 7 connections over/under the tracks:
On grade: Downing Ave.
Underpass:French St., Parade St., Ash St. (Division St. was closed for EMTA)
OverpassRt. 290 Bayfront Highway, McBride Viaduct at East Ave., Franklin Ave.
2. Misinformation and mis-used terms abound – need PUBLIC HEARING
a. “REDUNDANT” - While the Viaduct may be “redundant” for vehicles, it is ESSENTIAL for the 40% of households without a car
b. “STRUCTURALLY DEFICIENT” - this term means the Viaduct needs to be repaired, but not demolished. It is more relevant when discussing vehicle use, not bike/pedestrian use.
c. “FUNCTIONALLY OBSOLETE” – this term means the bridge no longer meets dimensional requirements for vehicles. This term is irrelevant regarding non-vehicular use. The dimensions of the Viaduct are exceedingly generous for non-vehicular use.
d. “PUBLIC HEARING” - Though many “meetings” have been held, there has been no transparent, on-the-record Public Hearing. Meanwhile, City Hall has generated a stream of misinformation without being properly vetted or held accountable.
3. Safety & Health Issues on Rt. 290 never vetted – need PUBLIC HEARING
The sidewalk on Southside of East 12th has been abandoned. Folks using highway path will have to cross a dangerous intersection with blind spot and 5 million annual vehicles going over 50MPH generating unhealthy levels of pollution, noise, and psychological damage
4. It’s never been “too late” to save the Viaduct.
It’s never been too late as long as the bridge is still standing. The public process is designed to allow for termination at any stage in the process. Even if a contract is signed in March, it is possible for “new information” to invalidate the contract.
5. Funding isn’t an issue.
It will cost the City no more to save the bridge than it will to tear it down. We have most of the money for Phase 1 - stabilize the bridge. PennDOT will pay $1.26 Million of the $1.35 Million estimated. After reallocating the City’s demolition contribution to saving the Viaduct, only an est. $20,000 is needed to stabilize the bridge. There is no reason to rush demolition this Spring, FHWA/PennDOT funds are good for 3 years. Our plan installs a public – private partnership (“P3”) similar to L.E.A.F. This cannot move forward without City Hall’s endorsement as the owning municipality – City Hall has been the obstruction to getting funds.
6. Insurance and maintenance costs are not obstacles to keeping the Viaduct.
The City’s insurance and liability costs won’t go up if the Viaduct stays and won’t be lowered if it is torn down. Maintenance cost are affordable – a generous budget of $5,000 a year is estimated.
8. The consequences of demolition are terrible, irrevocable and unnecessary.
LOST AIR RIGHTS: Demolition will lose the City’s existing “air rights” over the railroad. The plans don’t utilize existing permission to cross the railroad at either grade or overhead. This iconic neighborhood connection will be forever lost.
HAZARDOUS INTERSECTION: Demolition will force Eastsiders – including school children –to walk a longer, less healthy route along a four lane arterial highway and cross a very hazardous intersection with big rigs turning right on red into a dangerous blind spot. Pedestrians and bicyclists will likely be injured, perhaps killed.
PUBLIC HEALTH: Demolition will force pedestrians into a daily 2,000 foot long bad health walk - to endure environmental pollution, damaging noise and psychological and emotional/nervous system assaults. Eastsiders will be harmed.
LOST CONNECTIVITY: Demolition will make the City overall less connected, less walk-able and less healthy, causing harm.
THROW AWAY EXISTING ASSET: Demolition will throw away this existing $15M asset - a unique asset that could be used instead to brand the Eastside and cultivate economic development. The region will be harmed.
DISINVESTMENT: Demolition will continue and exacerbate Eastside disinvestment, tracing back to the 1937-redlining map.
ERASE EASTSIDE IDENTITY: Demolition will further erase Eastside history, heritage and connectivity, which was already severely harmed in 2005 by the Rt.290 Connector highway.
7. Demolition was unfairly, perhaps illegally decided before the 2012-2013, $85,000 L.R.Kimball study as evidenced by:
- City’s failure to clear storm drains and do basic maintenance for over 10 years after problem was discovered.
- Mayor Sinnott’s rejection of over $200,000 in state aid in 2008/2009
- Field Scoping View minutes of 2010 that listed three options that match almost word for word the three options that were the result of the 2012-2013 “Feasibility Study” (thus indicating that the study was done to meet requirements rather than to consider all of the options after engaging the community)
- City Engineer’s 2018 statement that he has been planning demolition for over a decade (since 2008?), at least four years prior to the “Feasibility Study” recommendations. This suggests the community engagement plan was not sincerely carried out.
8. Viaduct study was conducted without a proper team including a city planner.
ENGINEERS ONLY: Five traffic engineers, who are excellent at numerical calculations, made complex urban design decisions without the proper understanding of how cities non-vehicular flows work. They lacked the proper and required expertise.
PLANNERS ABSENT IN PROCESS: Five nationally renowned City Planners who have separately visited Erie recommend keeping the Viaduct as a ped / bike bridge. NO city planner has recommended demolition.
The new Erie City Planner, who began work on January 22, has been silent on this issue.
9. The Demolition Delay and a Public Hearing, called for by the lead consultant for the Erie Refocused Plan, Charles Buki and many others, is needed ASAP.
CHARLES BUKI: The lead consultant on the Erie Refocused Comprehensive Plan called for a pause and a public conversation.
A long list of prominent community and business leaders and residents have called for a Public Hearing.
As a candidate, Mayor Schember said he would “not object” to a Public Hearing.
In December, City Council said they would support further examination of the facts.
City Council President Sonya Arrington, supported by fellow Council members Liz Allen and Kathy Schaaf tried to institute a Public Hearing through resolution on February 7, 2018, but were blocked by four Councilmen led by Bob Merski.
10. Repairing the Viaduct for continued non-vehicular use can transform Erie.
- Create HOPE and a POSITIVE IDENTITY on the Eastside
- Foster economic development on East Ave
- Crack the status-quo tendency for decision-making by unqualified personnel that has been undermining Erie’s potential.
Viaduct Summary / 2018-02-25
TERMS MISAPPLIED TO VIADUCT
1. Functionally Obsolete The McBride Viaduct has been inaccurately characterized as “functionally obsolete.” Functionally Obsolete is a status used to describe a bridge that is no longer by design functionally adequate for its task. Reasons for this status include that the bridge doesn't have enough lanes to accommodate the traffic flow, it may be a drawbridge on a congested highway, or it may not have space for emergency shoulders. Functionally Obsolete does not communicate anything of a structural nature. A Functionally Obsolete bridge may be perfectly safe and structurally sound, but may be the source of traffic jams or may not have a high enough clearance to allow an oversized vehicle. Thus, while the Viaduct is “functionally obsolete” for vehicular traffic, it is exceptionally effective in its present contemporary use as a pedestrian and bike artery connecting impoverished neighborhoods.
2. Structurally Deficient The McBride Viaduct has been characterized as “structurally deficient.” Structurally Deficient is a status used to describe a bridge that has one or more structural defects that require attention. This status does not indicate the severity of the defect but rather that a defect is present. The Viaduct’s’ defects stem primarily from allowing the storm drains to remain clogged for decades, thus causing ongoing, but repairable, water damage to the Viaduct’s Deck and, Substructure. The Superstructure remains in great shape. The Viaduct’s Bridge Deck, the supporting surface of the bridge, has pot holes that must be filled. The Viaduct’s Superstructure includes the structural elements that support the bridge deck –a combination of steel beams over the railroad span and a reinforced concrete frame at all other spans (22). The bridge Substructure is essentially the bridge's foundation and piers supporting the Superstructure. This includes the Viaduct’s on-grade abutments and piers that have been surface-eroded by water damage for decades. Though the Viaduct does have defects, they are completely repairable and affordable.
3. Redundant. The McBride Viaduct has been characterized as “redundant.” Redundant describes something that is “not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous.” While it may be argued that the Viaduct is redundant for vehicles (though you would be hard-pressed to find any Eastsiders supporting this statement), it is impossible to rationally argue that the Viaduct is “no longer needed” by pedestrians, wheel-chair users and bicyclists heading north or south. If the Viaduct is demolished, other than a narrow highway recreational path, there is a mile and half between the nearest RR crossing at Downing Avenue (at-grade) to the east and Ash Street (under-pass) to the west. The Viaduct isn’t “superfluous” for non-vehicular flow, instead it is a key Eastside artery.
FACTS TO CONSIDER
1. The Viaduct has been closed to vehicular traffic since June 2, 2010 and since that time has blossomed into a preferred alternative for non-vehicular traffic – approximately 200/day 70,000/year and boasting a 6:1 resident use over the Rt. 290 highway path.
2. While travel time is slightly increased utilizing the posted detour and alternate routes for vehicles, the increased walking distance, while only somewhat significant, is exponentially problematic due to public health, walkability and absence of aesthetic merit or visual interest of the Rt. 290 path.
3. Pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users and infants in strollers are subject to diesel exhaust fumes, wind, rain, snow and noise at unhealthy levels if forced to use the Rt. 290 bridge.
4. The existing sidewalk network surrounding Rt.290 is not adequately designed to accommodate the increased pedestrian traffic, and cars and trucks turning right-on-red pose a severe danger to children who are invisible in the blind spot at the SE corner. There is no option to correct this significant hazard.
5. The heavy current level of traffic on Rt.290, 5M a year, is anticipated to increase significantly over the next decade, exacerbating an already dangerous situation at Rt.290 demonstrating a clear need to retain the Viaduct to protect residents within the project area.
FLAWED VIADUCT STUDY
The McBride Viaduct Feasibility study was initiated and completed without the guidance of city planners. Because traffic engineers ran the study, they did an excellent job addressing the needs of vehicles but failed to adequately consider the needs of 40% of area residents who do not have access to a car. In addition, they did not consider the needs of children who deserve a “safe route to school.”
Public Meetings : Feb 27, 2012 / Aug 6, 2012 / July 31, 2013 / Oct 2017
a. Format of Meetings: The meetings were organized to deliver information to the public, rather than to foster a public dialogue about the Viaduct.
b. Advertising: Advertising included contact with all media; bi-lingual emails; bi-lingual flyers distributed in human service centers, the library, City Hall and Public Housing. Special bus transportation and child-care was offered to assist public housing residents in attending meetings.
c. Advertising Failure: As outlined in “b” above the advertising was extensive and well intentioned. However, the failure to successfully engage actual Viaduct users reveals a structural problem in the outreach process. ErieCPR volunteers have found that during four years of questioning Viaduct users, 100% of them are in support of keeping the bridge with many expressing great opposition regarding the Rt. 290 highway route.
Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) April 9, 2012 / June 18, 2012 / Dec. 3, 2012 / July 31, 2013
According to two CAC resident participants, the meetings were “a waste of time” because each suggestion by Viaduct supporters was shut down. No Public Hearing was held to allow an on-the-record vetting of statements by participants, by the City, by PennDOT or consultants.
The designation of the Viaduct as a neighborhood project (by the City) narrowed the EJ examination scope of the relative hardship and justice issues to only within the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the Viaduct rather than examining the larger areas of the city impacted by the presence or absence of the Viaduct. In addition, the study failed to consider the historic disinvestment in the area traced as far back as Erie’s Federally-commissioned “redlining” map of 1935, or the damage to the area due to the 4-lane arterial highway constructed nearby in 2005 – Rt. 290. The narrow examination led to the false conclusion that demolishing the Viaduct would“ not have disproportionately high and adverse effects” to EJ populations in the area impacted by the bridge removal. In fact, bridge removal can be expected to fray social ties, increase isolation and crime, and harm public health. Walking a walled-off path of over 2,000 feet long saturated with highway traffic fumes and high-volume noise will negatively impact the health of residents, particularly the most vulnerable including youth, middle-school students and infants.
POST-STUDY CHANGES TO DEMOLITION PLAN
The crossing at Rt. 290 and E.12th includes a dangerous blind spot and was identified as hazardous in the 2013 study, so, a sidewalk, where none existed, was promised on the south side of E.12th to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross more safely at E.12th and East Ave., at the foot of the Viaduct. However, the sidewalk was deleted from the project in 2017 without a hearing. When ErieCPR challenged this un-vetted change, a meeting was held without any positive solution. Since the scope of the project was changed by the deletion of the planned sidewalk, the entire project should have been reconsidered.
COSTS OF PROPOSALS
City / PennDOT Estimated Total Viaduct Demolition Project Costs - $3M+
L.R. Kimball Study= $85,000+
Trans Systems Engineering $600,000
Bridge Demolition $1.45M
Fencing and parking lot costs to be determined
Additional costs $649,220 East 12th Street Sidewalk widening, ADA improvements at East Side Access & East Avenue, Expanding the Refuge Area in SE Quad at East Side Access & 12th Street, and construction inspection.
City / PennDOT Estimated Bridge Rehabilitation Costs - $5.9M
City/PennDOT says bridge rehabilitation will cost $5.9M. However, they provide no data for this figure.
ErieCPR Estimated Bridge Stabilization Costs - $1.35M
ErieCPR President, architect Adam Trott notes that the super structure – the steel bones of the bridge, are completely stable. All that is necessary to make the bridge safe for people walking and biking is to clear the storm drains, patch the deck, replace the eroded joints between the decks and remove damaged concrete skin and rebar from the neglected portions of the Viaduct and add a protective coating to the raw, damaged but now safe surface. Additional cosmetic resurfacing and other enhancements can be funded via grants in subsequent years. (Detailed estimate available.)
NOTE: Despite Mayor’s scare tactic of saying on TV that fixing the Viaduct would cost every household $250 (that’s $10M) NO tax increase is needed because funds can be obtained from existing sources:
a. $1.26 PennDOT Demo-Offset
b. $70,000 in City funds transferred from demolishing to fixing the Viaduct.
c. Balance of $20,000 may be obtained from: donations, corporate sponsorships, grants and / or the competitive application to the M.P.O. for a portion of the new fund will generate $15M over the next decade and is dedicated to repairing infrastructure. State, Federal and private grants for infrastructure, place-making and public health.
Maintenance Costs - $5,000 / year
Once essential and/or extensive repairs are complete, maintenance would primarily consist of an annual cleaning of the storm drains. This is an extremely conservative budget.
KEEP IN MIND
- City owns Viaduct.
- PennDOT will (still) do whatever City wants to regarding the Viaduct.
- It’s not too late to save the Viaduct.
- The Buffalo Road project has nothing to do with Viaduct.
- Before a demolition is undertaken, all pedestrian improvements should be complete.
- Mayor as Candidate said he would “not oppose” Public Hearing.
- Mayor in office said there has been “enough talking” and called for a “swift demolition”.
- City Hall has the power to call for a Public Hearing.
- City Hall “agreed” to a Public Hearing in Dec. 2017 but voted it down in Jan. 2018.
A Public Hearing should
- be Well Advertised & Open to the Public
- be Run by a Neutral Moderator
- be Recorded & Require All Parties to Testify On the Record Offering Supporting Data
- Permit Cross-questions
Calls to Save the Viaduct - or to at least hold a Viaduct Public Hearing – have been made by
many individuals and organizations including:
- dozens of people speaking at City Hall meetings
- letters to the editor and op-eds
- small businesses
- African American Concerned Clergy
- Erie NAACP
- Sisters of Mercy
- Benedictine Sisters for Peace
- Preservation Erie
- All Aboard Erie
- Bike Erie
- Civitas Erie
- Erie CPR
- former Mayor, former County Executive, former County Councilman
- three of the seven members of City Council
- six nationally recognized city planning experts
Charles Buki, Founding President of czB
issued this statement on November 22, 2017:
As one of the contributing planners to Erie’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan (Erie Refocused), I had the chance during plan development to evaluate some of the arguments for and against demolition of the McBride Viaduct.
My hesitancy to comment on any one project during the planning process was a function of not believing the community at large had in place a transparent enough process for making decisions that required a balancing of costs and benefits, nor formal processes with enough integrity to ensure whatever outcome, it could be said that a fair hearing occurred and all sides were heard.
Now that Erie Refocused is the city’s guiding plan, there is a process for prioritizing. There is now an emerging – and long overdue and very justified - expectation that the Erie community has a say; not a right to the outcome it wants, but most definitely a voice
A pause in the planned demolition of the viaduct at this time would be completely consistent with Erie Refocused. A pause that would allow study and deliberation is in order. With a new council and a new mayor, the Erie community has an opportunity for the viaduct, a potentially significant city asset, to evaluate the many outcomes that could result – either by demolition or rehabilitation; in other words the conversation that should have occurred years ago but, did not.
Process matters. If after careful consideration it is determined that demolition is the right course, then at least it can be said that the community was consulted, treated fairly, came together, and rendered a decision.
I strongly recommend a pause to the planned demolition of the McBride Viaduct, and a concerted effort to debate the issues publicly and transparently, and in a kind and caring manner. Then, after additional study and discussion, recommendations can be made to the mayor’s office and a final decision the community can live with can be made and made in good conscience.
FOUR URBAN DESIGN EXPERTS VISITED ERIE
& ENCOURAGED ERIE TO SAVE THE VIADUCT
ErieCPR: Connect + Respect
ErieCPR:Connect+Respect, the community group affiliated with the 501c3, Winds of Change, was formed in 2015 at Shiloh Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. Anthony Harris to advocate for community engagement in public planning with a focused effort to save the McBRIDE VIADUCT / East. Ave. Bridge. ErieCPR was built on the work of the Rethink the McBride Viaduct community group formed late in 2013 by architect Adam Trott and social sculptor Lisa Austin. ErieCPR is now lead by Adam Trott and Beary Clark, a respected community leader. Kathleen Brunner serves as Treasurer and Lisa Austin is Secretary. Freda Tepfer is the Resource Specialist and Alison Kaminski is the ErieCPR Strategist. Other key advisors include Gary Horton, President of the Erie NAACP; Rev. Charles Mock, Pastor of Community Baptist; Minister Luchetta Manus, and Sister Cynthia Muhammad, editor of the Erie Metropolitan Black Yellow Pages and ErieCPR Spokesperson Micheal Keys and Attorney Richard Filippi, a former Mayor of Erie.
Constructed in 1938, the Viaduct was closed to vehicular use in 2010. Since then this hulking span has become the route of choice for pedestrians, bicyclists and skateboarders. The City of Erie is prepared to spend over $3million to tear down this artery, more than it would cost to save the bridge. But, ErieCPR is advocating saving the bridge in order to: KEEP KIDS (and adults) SAFE as they walk or ride bikes to school, work, shopping, recreation, worship, family and friends; Create much-needed, decently-paying Local Jobs through a COMMUNITY BENEFITS AGREEMENT; Create an Infrastructure Repair Training Program - perhaps linked to the planned COMMUNITY COLLEGE; Maintain Urban CONNECTIVITY; Celebrate and Enhance Eastside Erie's GRITTY INDUSTRIAL HISTORY to promote ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT; and instead of throwing this gem of a structure away we can INVEST IN AN EXISTING ASSETT while SAVING taxpayer's money.
The Viaduct isn't falling down.
It all started when...
The Viaduct wasn't maintained for years. The gutters filled with dirt, water back up, it froze and expanded and has broken up the "skin" of the bridge. One PennDOT engineer commented, even if we leave it as it is today, the Viaduct "will stand another century." While cars, trucks and 22-ton tractor-trailers shouldn't use the Viaduct, over 200 pedestrian and bike trips are safely made over this key bridge 24/7 - twelve months a year. If we tear down the Viaduct, we'll be creating what one East-sider has described as "a containment area." Those living in poverty who depend on the Viaduct will have to walk a longer and much more dangerous route along a highway and busy state route. The City of Erie doesn't have a City Planner, so, urban design decisions are made without any idea of how cities work.Mayor Joe Sinnott turned down state funds to rehab the Viaduct back in 2007. Three years later the neglected Viaduct was closed to vehicles. Soon after, the L.R.Kimball firm was hired to study the situation. L.R.Kimball's five traffic engineers (evidently untrained in urban design) proposed three vehicle-centric options:
1. Demolish the Viaduct and build a new bridge - $20 million;
2. Repair the Viaduct for continued vehicular use ($10 million);
3. Build a new interchange at Buffalo Road ($6 million) and demolish the Viaduct ($1.2 million) and re-route pedestrians along a highway and new sidewalk on the south-side of E.12th - a busy state road.
IMPORTANT CHANGES to the plan that City Council voted to support have been made without a PUBLIC HEARING. For instance, demolition COSTS have risen from $1.2 million, to $2.3 million and now to over $3 million - more than the cost of keeping the Viaduct. The promised "SAFE" new sidewalk on the south-side of E.12th has been abandoned. If the Viaduct is demolished, each year, more than 70,000 pedestrians and bicyclists will be rerouted across a dangerous intersection with 5 million speeding vehicles.
FLAWED STUDY - Experts reviewing L.R.Kimball's report have identified troubling flaws including a lack of community engagement and casual dismissal of data that supported stabilizing the Viaduct for non-vehicular use.
ANOTHER OPTION - ErieCPR:Connect+Respect, the citizen's group affiliated with the 501c3 Winds of Change, has proposed that Erie go ahead and build a new interchange at Buffalo Road ($6 million) and stabilize the Viaduct for non-vehicular use ($3 million.) Fixing the Viaduct can be partially funded using money currently slated for demolition, and, the rest of the money can be raised via a public-private partnership (like Frontier Park's LEAF) seeking grants over the next few years. Insurance isn't an issue as the City pays one bill for all of Erie. And, once the Viaduct is re-skinned, maintenance costs will be minimal and can be supported by the public-private partnership, perhaps ErieCPR.