OC Gears Up for Center Street Bridge Closure
Plans in place to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible for public
by Saxon Daugherty
Oil City officials and business owners gathered Friday at the National Transit Building to discuss the major impact the upcoming Center Street Bridge closure will have on the downtown area.
Beginning March 28, the 178- foot-long, one-span steel-arch bridge, which was built in 1939, will be completely closed off as the next phase of the rehabilitation project gets underway. PennDOT highway designer Jim Donze said the bridge is in dire need of repair and is classified as structurally deficient. Francis J. Palo Inc. of Clarion has been awarded the $1,983,543 contract for the work.
The project will be paid for completely with state funds, and the target completion date is Sept. 29. Workers will install new concrete bridge approach slabs and do resurfacing work on Center Street while also updating drainage, signals, sidewalks and curbs. The first period of work for the project began in October when the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge was removed to allow for relocation of utility lines belonging to Verizon.
Venango Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Williams felt Friday’s meeting was necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page before the bulk of the project gets underway. “We suspect there were people that didn’t even know this was happening,” Williams said. Williams added that having proper communication can hopefully minimize the negative effects of the work in the upcoming months.
Traffic flow was a major topic of discussion among those in attendance, because roughly 6,800 vehicles use the Center Street Bridge every day, on average. “I’m just worried about the congestion,” said Dan Feroz, an Oil City Arts Council member and co-owner of H&R Block. Donze admitted it’s not going to be easy, but he said PennDOT has made a sincere effort to make things as smooth as possible. “It is going to be difficult and patience will be critical,” he said. “We just want to eliminate the congestion and make it easier on the traveling public.” Stop bars are going to be moved back and a handful of parking spaces will be eliminated in order to create a better turning radius for larger vehicles. “The school year is going to be the hardest part because we will have to get all of the buses and trucks through,” Donze said. “We are just hoping it pans out the way we planned.”
Oil City police Chief Bob Wenner said his department will monitor the traffic situation and assist with traffic control whenever possible. Detour routes have been established and signs will be up at least two weeks prior to the start of work, Donze said. Motorists traveling north on Route 8 will see a blinking yellow traffic signal, but to access the downtown area they will need to continue going north where they can connect with Seneca Street. Vehicles looking to go across the bridge coming down off Spring and Plummer streets will have to go around as well. They will need to turn onto Elm Street, followed by Duncomb and then back onto Seneca Street. “A lot of discussion went into our detour plan,” Donze said. The sidewalks running alongside the bridge will be closed during the project and pedestrians looking to cross to the other side of Oil Creek must use a portion of the Erie to Pittsburgh trail, where they will cross an old railroad bridge.
Community events will also be affected by the rehabilitation work, including the Oil Heritage Festival this summer. “We can’t close Seneca Street for the parade this year,” Williams said. “We will do our best to stretch it as far back as we can.” In addition, both the Oil Heritage car show and craft show will have to be moved to the PennDOT parking lot due to the lack of space. The craft show will be a one-day event this year instead of two days. “While change is hard, it will be an easy set up in a lot of ways,” Williams said. “We looked for an alternative and we have found that.”
Oil City Main Street Program manager Kathy Bailey tried to focus on the positives of the situation for businesses during Friday’s session. “I think this is an opportunity to promote our businesses differently,” she said. “Seneca Street businesses should see an increase in traffic with the detour, so you will be able to catch new customers.” Bailey also stressed that business owners need to spruce up their storefronts in order to help draw those potential new patrons, even if it just means cleaning their windows. Williams added that monitoring parking outside businesses needs to be another emphasis, because too many people are using spots outside of stores for long-term parking. Wenner chimed into the discussion and said employees are just as guilty when it comes to parking in those spots. “Every time you do that, you are taking away a spot from a customer,” he said. At the conclusion of the meeting, Bailey suggested the group meet again in April after the project has started so new concerns and problems can be brought to PennDOT’s attention. Donze concluded by saying he is open to having another meeting, and he knows a challenge awaits the city. “It’s in the downtown area and that would be tough for any city,” he said. “If we work together, it will go fast.”