The Delaware River Port Authority can't decide whether to close the Benjamin Franklin Bridge for the papal visit without the Secret Service giving up more information about security restrictions.
Problem is, says DRPA chief executive John Hanson, the Secret Service has not been forthcoming with needed details.
The Secret Service wants control, he added, but not responsibility.
With Pope Francis and as many as 1.5 million visitors expected in Philadelphia in less than two months, the Secret Service appeared to be at loggerheads with local agencies wrestling with rail and vehicle restrictions - and growing public frustration. On Thursday, the federal agency issued an unusual release denying that it dictated SEPTA limits on rail service for that weekend or that it had ordered Philadelphia businesses to shut down.
The blame game continued Friday afternoon, with SEPTA challenging the Secret Service, saying it had no choice but to shut stations rather than comply with unworkable security rules.
Officials of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit, meanwhile, have groused privately about the Secret Service, but none would publicly criticize the agency at week's end.
Sources have said the DRPA has decided to close the bridge to vehicular traffic for parts or all of the papal visit weekend in late September. But Hanson said Friday that decision can't be made without Secret Service input. The bridge could remain open if I-95 stays open on the Pennsylvania side, he said. But if I-95 is closed, the bridge will be closed, too.
"Until the Secret Service makes those decisions, we can't do our jobs," Hanson said.
Hanson suggested that frustrated local officials may need to make their own decisions and then tell the Secret Service what they're doing, instead of the other way around. "There are key decisions that have to be made about security - the type of security, the kind of restrictions. Those decisions are under the control of the Secret Service, and until those decisions are made, we can't decide what we're going to do."
Hanson said the locals "have to act like we're responsible. Now is the time to play a stronger role."
Queried about Hanson's remarks, a Secret Service spokesman said Friday that his agency was "committed to a timely release of information once all security plans are finalized."
The spokesman, Robert Hoback, also said that the service had been "working closely for many months" with state, federal, and regional agencies to develop a comprehensive security plan, and that the Secret Service was not the sole or final arbiter in matters of security. "Final decisions regarding road closures, secure zones, and other security-related measures, are always made jointly and in conjunction with our many partners," Hoback said.
"We will reach out to all of our partners," he said, "and try to come up with a plan that works for all of us."
As many as 800,000 are expected to turn out to see Pope Francis at a Festival of Families on Sept. 26 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Twice as many, 1.5 million, could turn out for a Mass the next day.
SEPTA, meanwhile, took issue with Hoback's assertions on Thursday that the federal agency had not directed SEPTA to close train stations. SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said that claim was "a matter of semantics" and true only in a "technical" sense - that it had no choice.
She said Secret Service requirements obliged SEPTA to close the Suburban, City Hall, and 15th Street stations.
The only way the Secret Service would have allowed the stations to remain open, she said, was if all passengers on trains entering those stations were taken off and screened. And that, she said, "is not an option that was feasible to an efficient operation."
"We felt we had no other option than to close the stations," she said.
Williams also said that SEPTA has had "a fantastic working relationship" with the Secret Service, which is in charge of all security for Pope Francis' visit. She said many of SEPTA's decisions transit plans have been driven by the 2008 World Series parade debacle, when SEPTA trains were overwhelmed by the crowds.
SEPTA officials have said the Secret Service has told them that Center City will be essentially closed to traffic between South Street and Girard Avenue and from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill. As a result of those directives, SEPTA officials have said their plans funnel travelers from a few outlying stations to a handful of stations on the fringe of the no-go zone.
The agency will hold an online Regional Rail lottery Monday for pope weekend travelers to win a chance to buy the 350,000 passes available.
The Secret Service's planning was defended Friday by the mayor's office. Jennifer Crandall, deputy spokeswoman for Mayor Nutter, said the federal agency "has been great partners among our many partners."
"We are working in concert with SEPTA and Amtrak" and other agencies "to develop comprehensive transportation plan," said Crandall, adding that there would be "an announcement made jointly next week."
Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for PennDot, said his agency had no quarrel with the Secret Service and considered its planning as "collaborative."
Nancy Snyder, spokeswoman for NJ Transit, said her agency was "working with all parties involved" and would "not get into the question" of whether it would make decisions without input from the Secret Service.