Design firm hired for Spring Garden Street improvement project that will better link NoLibs with the Delaware River

The RBA Group, the same firm designing and building the Penn Street portion of the Central Delaware multipurpose trail, will design the Spring Garden Connector project.

The Spring Garden Connector will likely include lights, landscaping, art and signage and will be geared toward making the use of Spring Garden Street as a means of getting between Northern Liberties and the river more obvious and pleasant. Other consultants working with RBA include Leni Schwendinger Light Projects Ltd. and the Lighting Practice.

The project goals are similar to those of the completed Race Street Connector, which ties Old City to the river at Race Street Pier, and the in-the-works Columbia Avenue Connector, which will do the same for Fishtown and Penn Treaty Park.

The Dec. 6 DRWC meeting

If all goes according to the Central Delaware Master Plan, the Spring Garden Connector will one day end in a mixed use development with both residential and retail aspects as well as water access at what is now the Festival Pier site. The earliest preparation for that future is underway, DRWC Vice President Joe Forkin said after the meeting.

There was once an incinerator on the site. Enough environmental testing was done in the past to get approval for using the site in other ways, but residential certification was never sought. Forkin said two rounds of testing have been done, and the results have been favorable. While four tests are generally required, Forkin said the state Department of Environmental Protection may decide fewer are necessary if results are good. “We think we will get relief,” he said.

Structural testing of the piles beneath the pier has also begun, with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers divers handling that work. “It will take a month or so of testing,” Forkin said.

In the case of Race Street, Columbia Avenue and Spring Garden, a highway overpass creates a dark and intimidating passage. But no previous example compares to the scope of Spring Garden. The street is much wider, as is the overpass. It is also more complicated because of SEPTA access there. To learn more, read the RFP here.

This connector will literally tie in with the work RBA has done on the Penn Street Trail, which will run from the foot of Spring Garden north along Delaware Avenue before turning onto Penn Street and running through the SugarHouse Casino parking lot to join up with the existing trail behind SugarHouse. RBA is also designing the standards for the entire Central Delaware Trail, which will be demonstrated through the Penn Street project.

Whatever design RBA comes up with for the Spring Garden Connector, it will have to be removable. The underpass will be rebuilt as part of the Revive 95 project, and DRWC Planner Karen Thompson said the plan is that elements can be packed up during the construction period and then put back afterward.

The RBA Group has offices in New York and Philadelphia. The DRWC executive board Thursday agreed to pay RBA up to $300,000 to do the design and engineering work for the connector project.

The design process is expected to take 10 months to a year, Thompson said. There will be public meetings held throughout the process, she said, but those have yet to be scheduled.

Meanwhile, the bid to construct the Penn Street Trail will be released next week, said DRWC Planner Lizzie Woods. The deadline for submissions is in mid January, and the contract is expected to be awarded at the DRWC’s Jan. 25 meeting. Construction should take about four months, she said. “We’re hoping for a Memorial Day 2013 ribbon cutting.”

On the southern end of the trail, Forkin said some straightening is complete. The trail used to jog around onto the parking lot behind the Sheet Metal Workers Union, because DRWC didn’t have a right of way agreement. That agreement was worked out, and the trail now runs along the waterfront there.

Most of the right of way easements DRWC has for the trail are permanent. However, the easement at the Sheet Metal Workers and at the nearby site where Foxwoods Casino was proposed are revocable, Forkin said.
Both renew automatically each year, unless the landowner gives 90 days notice before the roll-over date that they want to revoke, Forkin said.

He, Woods and Thompson said negotiations are continuing for permanent arrangements, especially now that the city has set stream buffer legislation calling for 50-foot setbacks on the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. That means no permanent structure can be built where the trail is, anyway.

Forkin noted that preliminary sketches he’s seen for a development the Sheet Metal Workers Union and Eric Blumenthal are talking about clearly show the trail.

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