Will the Ben Franklin Bridge Close or Not During the Pope’s Visit?

The DRPA says it needs more information from the Secret Service before it makes that decision.

Ben Franklin Bridge | Shutterstock

Ben Franklin Bridge | Shutterstock

The gist: Will the authorities shut down the Ben Franklin Bridge for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September?

Last month, a consultant for the World Meeting of Families said that the bridge would be closed to vehicular traffic, but the Delaware River Port Authority said at the time that was “not in the plan right now.”

Now, the DRPA says it can’t determine whether or not to shut down the bridge until it receives more information from the Secret Service, which is overseeing security for the pope’s trip. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

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 [DRPA chief executive John 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.

Likewise, SEPTA told the Inquirer that it being forced to close subway stations in Center City due to the Secret Service’s requirements. A SEPTA spokeswoman said the only way that they could stay open is “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,'” the Inky wrote.

The accounts by the DRPA and SEPTA come in direct conflict with the Secret Service’s official line, which is that it has not told SEPTA to limit service during the pope’s visit, and that it is making all final decisions on bridge closures and other security issues with local officials.

Why it matters: The question of whether the Ben Franklin Bridge will close during the World Meeting of Families has been one of the main factors leading to #PapalPanic in recent weeks. The fact that the DRPA is now publicly blaming the Secret Service for not being able to answer that question doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the authorities’ ability to handle the massive event and coordinate with each other, at a time when the public desperately wants to be reassured.

But it also suggests that some local officials have reached a breaking point with the Secret Service, and have decided that the best way to get out information to residents is to publicly pressure the federal agency to do things differently.

Sources in Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration told Citified last week that they want to give the public more details about the impact of the event, but they can’t thanks to the Secret Service, Vatican officials and the World Meeting of Families. The DRPA’s Hanson told the Inquirer that local officials who are bothered by the Secret Service “have to act like we’re responsible. Now is the time to play a stronger role.” It’s unlikely that the city government will follow the DRPA’s lead and call out the Secret Service in public. It can’t look like an ungrateful host city, after all. But it could ramp up pressure privately.

In other words, this blame game could mean that — maybe, possibly — the public will get firmer details about the pope’s visit sooner than later.