With work on I-95 and possible rail strike, headaches loom

When new construction work started Wednesday night on I-95, it added one more obstacle to smooth travel in the Philadelphia region.

The $212 million project between Girard and Allegheny Avenues will last until 2018, adding to the woes of I-95 travelers already slowed by major reconstruction at Cottman Avenue.

Add a possible strike that could shut down all 13 SEPTA Regional Rail lines at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the emergency closure until at least Labor Day of an I-495 bridge in Wilmington, summerlong lane restrictions, and a closed PATCO train track on the Ben Franklin Bridge, and you have the makings of regional gridlock.

Hundreds of thousands of commuters, vacationers, and business travelers face daily delays as drivers seeking alternate routes spill onto other highways.

"It's a perfect summer storm of travel issues - seasonally high travel volume and Shore traffic up against an I-495 closure and I-95 construction," said Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman of the AAA Mid-Atlantic auto club. "A SEPTA strike would only add to that traffic flood, and travelers need to allow plenty of time. This could indeed be a long, hot summer."

Travelers on northbound I-95 Thursday morning will find new lane configurations between Girard and Allegheny, as traffic is shifted to allow reconstruction and widening.

Similar changes are slated for southbound traffic in the same segment starting June 19.

About 160,000 vehicles a day travel that section of the freeway.

The first effects of a SEPTA rail strike could be felt as early as Saturday. On a typical Saturday, about 48,000 passengers ride on Regional Rail, and about 37,500 do so on a typical Sunday.

On an average weekday, 126,000 riders take Regional Rail.

A strike by train engineers and rail electrical workers remains likely, union leaders said Wednesday. Union leaders and SEPTA officials will meet Friday with a federal mediator in a last effort to avoid a strike.

"We will be monitoring the SEPTA situation closely," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Eugene Blaum. "Obviously, we could have many more vehicles on the highway if there is a work stoppage."



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