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Penn Street gateway reconstruction reveals vestiges of Reading’s streetcars [Opinion]

I’m baffled by many things.

Where exactly do bread ties go after you untwist them?

And why does traffic merging from southbound Route 222 onto the Warren Street Bypass in the area of the Berkshire Mall only back up onto the travel lanes on Friday afternoons? Do that many people leave work early on Fridays?

But what I’ve been most perplexed by is why it took so long for Reading to fix the 200 block of Penn Street adjacent to the Gateway Building.

For years, perhaps decades, those of us whose commute to the city over the Schuylkill River by way of the Penn Street Bridge have endured more dips and divots than the fairways of the defunct Village Greens Golf Course in Sinking Spring.

Heading into the city, motorists turning left onto North Third Street would experience a sinking sensation. My sedan would turn into a lowrider while waiting for the green arrow.

In a real sense, we were sinking, just more slowly than can be detected by the naked eye.

In April, a sinkhole measuring about 12 feet deep opened up in the westbound lanes in front of the Theo C. Auman Inc. funeral home, just before the morning rush. As I drove in, I noticed the westbound side was barricaded by a police cruiser with its light flashing.

After parking behind the Reading Eagle building, I backtracked by foot for a half-block and met Officer Dale Tyrthall Jr. He told me a BARTA bus driver discovered it about 6 a.m. It was enough to cause serious front-end damage to a passenger vehicle.

I followed the story for a few days. Bob Gensemer, the city’s sewer systems superintendent, told me workers’ jaws dropped when a load of the diluted cement called flowable fill went down the chute of a cement truck and vanished down the throat of the sinkhole.

“We don’t know where it went,” he said, estimating the sinkhole meandered sideways like a rabbit hole for as much as 40 feet.

So maybe it was a blessing that a city contractor didn’t start tearing up the pavement and subsurface of Penn at the city’s western gateway until last month.

While driving into the city the other day, I noticed a heavy equipment crew had dug up the length of the westbound lanes along the funeral home and Gateway Building. I remembered what Gensemer told me about what lay beneath the surface, so I took another walk.

The sinkhole was a portal to another century. Gensemer had told me his workers destroyed a $500 road-saw blade when they hit a rail of an abandoned trolley track.

Electric trolley service in Berks County operated from the late 19th century until the mid-1900s. The last streetcar, which ran from Reading to Shillington and Mohnton, made its final run in 1952.

Nearly 70 years of paving projects buried the tracks under several feet of asphalt.

A foreman for H&K, the contractor rebuilding the Penn Street gateway, told me the trolley tracks ran the length of the project area. They were being ripped up as they went along and stacked, presumably to be scrapped.

I asked him what other unusual things they’ve encountered, and he told me they discovered pieces of abandoned gas lines, bricks, you name it.

Also, another vestige to the 19th century public works: a vault of the steam works system. Before natural gas lines were installed, steam produced at generating plants was carried under streets to provide heat to commercial and residential customers.

At this writing there is no word on whether they found any remnants of the DeLorean car-turned-time machine piloted by Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly character in “Back to the Future.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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