On Tuesday morning, officials and residents from both sides of the Manayunk/Lower Merion border gathered on what will soon become a construction site to both laud their spirit of cooperation and look toward a brighter, healthier future.
In one sense, the groundbreaking ceremony marked a huge step (or pedal) forward in a years-long effort to turn the historic Manayunk Bridge into what’s believed to be the first-ever pedestrian- and bicycle-only trail over the Schuylkill River.
In another, it was a chance to celebrate what happens when elected officials (among others) work together across party and geographic lines to reopen a span that’s been locked for three decades.
Among the officials on hand for the ceremonial ground-breaking moment were state Rep. Pam DeLissio, City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and Lower Merion Twp. Board of Commissioners President Liz Rogan.
“There is no line between Lower Merion and Philadelphia; you can go from City Avenue to here and never get in a car, and that’s a good thing,” said Rogan. “By all rights, this project here should never have happened.”
Rina Cutler, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor of transportation and utilities, emceed the event.
She said “it is truly a phenomenal walk across a bridge that connects two municipalities,” despite telling attendees (with a wink) that they weren’t yet technically allowed to take that stroll or ride quite yet.
The path will stand as a testament to that cooperation, said Shapiro, who proposed he and Jones take a long ride along the path from Lower Merion to Valley Forge National Park when all’s said and done.
“We are better together building bridges than erecting walls,” said Jones, who vowed to take Shapiro up on his offer.
Work atop the half-mile span, expected to be complete by late 2015, will connect the Cynwyd Heritage and Schuylkill River Trails, which in turn connects Lower Merion with Main Street Manayunk while providing “spectacular views” along a new transportation and recreation route, according to organizers.
The back story
The $4.7 million project has become a reality thanks to a potpourri of funders including PennDOT (via the City of Philadelphia), Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and the William Penn Foundation.
The Manayunk Bridge was once part of SEPTA’s regional rail system
The bridge’s existing rail bed will be replaced by a concrete path that will extend down to street level at Dupont Street, about a block away from Main Street in Manayunk.
Fencing on either side of the bridge will also be erected.
According to a joint press release from the city of Philadelphia and Lower Merion Township, the project “is a hallmark segment of the regional network of multi-use trails called the Circuit, which currently includes 300 miles of completed trails and 50 miles in progress throughout Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.”