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Flood-relief project puts squeeze on Kelly Dr.

The thousands of drivers who are used to motoring along Kelly Drive are in for a rude awakening. For at least the next 15 months - and possibly as long as two years - some of the lanes just south of the Twin Bridges in East Falls will be closed for a $38 million construction project, creating a bottleneck on one of Philadelphia's most scenic arterial highways.

The thousands of drivers who are used to motoring along Kelly Drive are in for a rude awakening.

For at least the next 15 months - and possibly as long as two years - some of the lanes just south of the Twin Bridges in East Falls will be closed for a $38 million construction project, creating a bottleneck on one of Philadelphia's most scenic arterial highways.

Kelly Drive is down to two lanes, one in each direction, and will remain that way for at least six months.

The project is designed to relieve frequent flooding in the Scotts Lane area, north of Allegheny Avenue and about a half-mile from the Schuylkill. To do that, engineers will install a pipe, but not just any pipe.

The pipe, which engineers call a "tunnel," is made of reinforced concrete and has an inside diameter of 121/2 feet. As it approaches the river, underneath Kelly Drive, the pipe grows even wider to slow the discharge into the Schuylkill.

What makes the project even more different is that parts of it - including the section under Kelly Drive - will be placed by drilling. No trenches.

"We have to dig through mica schist rock," said Deputy Water Commissioner Debra McCarty. "We could have done an open cut above ground, which would have disrupted all streets and traffic.

"It's a half-mile-long pipe. The majority is being done by tunneling," she said.

The tunnel, she said, will be dug by a huge "tunnel-boring machine" that looks like a long mechanical earthworm.

And why does this project take so long?

Because mica schist is very hard and tunneling goes slowly, explained McCarty, an engineer.

The primary contractors on the project are JPC General Contractors of Blackwood and Michigan-based Jaydee Contractors, which specializes in trenchless pipe replacement.

At Kelly Drive, the tunnel will be 16 feet below the surface, said Andrew Hart, a 34-year-old foreman for JPC.

But the bottom line for motorists is that easy passage along Kelly Drive will be a thing of the past for more than a year. Commuters hoping to be at their jobs on time or to get to that all-important noon lunch date will encounter several hundred feet of Jersey barriers, a bottleneck, and may have to make looping detours that eat up time.

"It's a mess," Hortense Levere said as she sat at a traffic light at Calumet Street and Kelly Drive. "My husband takes it every day, and he's been complaining."

Allen Kahn, waiting for the same light, said: "Everybody who goes on Kelly Drive is complaining. This was the main thoroughfare."

McCarty said the project was essential.

Storm run-off has caused heavy flooding along residential and commercial corridors, heavily affecting Pep Boys and other businesses.

McCarty said the large amount of building in the area had created more impervious surfaces than the current eight-foot pipe above the East Falls Bridge was capable of handling.

The bespectacled engineer said the project is one of the largest of its type ever undertaken.

By the time it is finished, the storm drain will have also tunneled underneath some of the cemeteries along Kelly Drive.

Driving his Subaru yesterday north on Kelly Drive near Calumet, John Tucker, 77, described the construction going on at the twin railroad bridges as a "roadblock. It's frustrating."

Bikers, joggers, skaters, skateboarders, fishers and artists will have to cope with the slow pace until the job is done.

Ronald Jackson, 34, of Kensington, said it could be a silver lining to a dark cloud if it slowed down traffic on Kelly Drive.

Astride his folding bike near Calumet, Jackson spoke as two cars raced for the opening through the Jersey barriers where yellow water-filled impact barrels and orange cones stood sentry.

"That'd be great," said Jackson, who often rides from Kensington to Kelly Drive to Manayunk and back again. He said the cars often come too close.

Hart, the JPC foreman, agreed about the need to slow down drivers.

"People are going too fast through here instead of obeying the sign that says 25 m.p.h.," Hart said. "These barriers aren't going anywhere, but their car will."

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