Schember's Call for Demolition Based on Misinformation

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The misinformation guiding Mayor Joseph Schember’s recent call to quickly demolish the McBride Viaduct underscores the need for an immediate demolition delay and for the Public Hearing called for by the lead consultant of the Erie Refocused Comprehensive Plan, City Council President Sonya Arrington and many other leaders and organizations.

At a January 25th meeting in City Hall, the Mayor stated that PennDOT could provide only about $600,000 in Demo-Offset funds to repair the Viaduct. But PennDOT, in a January 26 email to ErieCPR noted, "the amount of Demo-Offset funds that could be made available to the City of Erie if they choose to rehabilitate the bridge, retain ownership of it, and agree to maintain it is ... $1,259,345" (1.26M).

The Schember Administration has repeatedly stated that repairing the Viaduct for continued non-vehicular will cost $6 to $10 million – $10M being the same amount estimated to repair the Viaduct for use by cars, trucks and 22-ton tractor trailers.

Architect Adam Trott reports that “the cost to fix the Viaduct for vehicles ($6-10M) is not the same as the repairs needed for pedestrians and bicyclists.” ($1.35M)  PennDOT’s $1.26M in Demo-Offset funding is 93% of the $1.35 million needed to repair the Viaduct for continued non-vehicular use.

Trott has noted that that the Viaduct’s damaged concrete and rebar aren't structural issues, but are “more like an unsightly surface rash” that doesn't impact the main structure. Trott’s plan to stop the Viaduct’s deterioration is to a) repair the long-neglected and clogged storm drainage system; b) remove loose concrete and add a protective seal to the scarred concrete; c) fill pot-holes on the deck and joints between the decks.

At his January 11 news conference, the Mayor claimed that saving the Viaduct would cost every household $250. Such a fee would collect over $10 million dollars, many times the amount needed to repair the Viaduct for continued non-vehicular use. The Schember Administration claims that the City cannot afford to insure or maintain the Viaduct. But this is misleading because the city’s insurance premium will not be lowered if the Viaduct is demolished.  However, another $5,200 will be needed annually to keep the storm drains cleared, and an additional $2,500 will be needed each year to grow a capital reserve fund for optional, future improvements.

But, no new $250 tax is needed. We can use the $1.26 from PennDOT and, the City should contribute the $72,500 already committed as a 5% share of demolition costs. Thus, we only need to raise $21,475 to repair the Viaduct. We can raise this amount - along with annual expenses of $7,700 for maintenance and capitol improvements - in at three ways.

The City can apply for a share of the new County fund that is expected to generate $15 million over the next decade. Next, by working with ErieCPR volunteers, the City can apply for one of the many infrastructure, public health or place-making grants available through state, federal and private programs. Lastly, naming rights for parts of the Viaduct, especially the north and south entrances, will attract private support.

On January 11th, the Mayor rescinded his earlier statement “not to object to a Public Hearing” about the Viaduct. Schember’s reversal, just days before the January 16 Town Hall, was viewed as an attempt to undermine Erie Refocused guidelines for community engagement.

However, the Jefferson Educational Society was packed, the Mayor’s absence was noted, and attendees agreed that a demolition delay and a Public Hearing is needed to vet the facts, missing in the feasibility study, regarding: the condition of the Viaduct and the cost to fix it for non-vehicular use; the safety, health, walkability, connectivity and economic issues surrounding the loss of the Viaduct; and the funding available from PennDOT and other sources.            #   #   #