Philly wants to ‘stitch’ together Chinatown by capping the Vine Street Expressway

The city has $4 million to plan and design a cap. It will have to apply for additional funding from the federal government to build it.

Chinatown has been separated by the Vine Street Expressway since the 1980s. Officials are hoping money in the Infrastructure and jobs bill will be slated to cap the expressway

Chinatown has been separated by the Vine Street Expressway since the 1980s. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia could start construction on a highway cap over the Vine Street Expressway in 2028, city officials announced Wednesday.

The massive project, dubbed the Chinatown Stitch, would reconnect the north and south sides of the neighborhood, somewhere between Broad Street and Eighth Street. The goal is to help right historic inequities, while making the area a safer and healthier place to live and work.

Starting this week, residents can weigh in on the project by filling out an online survey. The public engagement part of the process will also include in-person engagement events leading up to a public “visioning workshop” planned for April 26.

“There’s some light at the end of the tunnel that [we] can really take this concrete highway and convert it into something that can be of great benefit to the residents and workers of Chinatown,” said John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation during a news conference.

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The city has $4 million to plan and design the cap project, which would conceal an underground section of Interstate 676. The money will also be used for community building and an equity plan. Advocates say the neighborhood has often been compromised by large-scale projects over the years, including the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The total includes a $1.8 million grant from the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program, a federal initiative designed to improve transportation infrastructure that creates barriers to “mobility, access, or economic development,” according to the program’s website. The remaining $2.2 million comes from the city, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, among other sources.

“We’re really focused on not just having this be planning work for planning sake, but to get to construction,” said Christopher Puchalsky, director of policy and strategic initiatives with the city’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability.

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In the three decades since the Vine Street Expressway opened, organizations in Philadelphia have received federal grants and other forms of assistance to study ways to mitigate the impacts of the highway and plan future construction. And Chinatown residents have sought government funding for pedestrian safety improvements for years, including capping the highway.

Puchalsky told reporters he’s hopeful this latest effort will make some of those dreams a reality thanks to the availability of federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, tallying the  cost between $25 million and $30 million to cap a single city block.

Chin echoed that optimism during Wednesday’s news conference. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but this grant is a huge, big step in helping us accomplish a lot of the work,” he said.

The city has started construction on a highway cap over Interstate 95 at Penn’s Landing.

The $329 million project will create nearly 12-acres of parkland and seamlessly connect Old City to the Delaware River waterfront when completed.

Disclosure: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is among WHYY’s financial supporters.

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