Schuylkill River boardwalk construction is buzzing along, in tune with tide

Walk or wheel south along the Schuylkill River Trail today and you’re bound to hit the dead end just past Locust Street. From there you can cross the relatively new CSX Bridge into Schuylkill River Park, backtrack or abandon the trail for city streets. By next fall though, those traveling on the Schuylkill River Trail will have another option. Trail-goers will be able to traverse a new boardwalk that will jut out into the river and connect with a ramp up to the South Street Bridge. 

If you’ve been on the trail recently or caught a glimpse of the river from one of several nearby vantage points, you’ve likely seen construction of the boardwalk and ramp buzzing along. Eyes on the Street caught up with Lane Fike, director of capital programs at the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), to find out what’s happening and what to expect next. 

When it is complete, the 2,000-foot-long boardwalk will extend from the Schuylkill River Trail’s current dead end at Locust Street to the South Street Bridge. There a 460-foot, ADA-accessible ramp will bring pedestrians from the river up to the deck of the bridge. 

The boardwalk itself will be 15-feet-wide and will have four expanded lookout areas for people to pause or lounge mid boardwalk crossing. 

In addition to providing an important link in the Schuylkill River Trail, which cannot continue on land between Locust and South streets, the boardwalk will feel unlike any other segment of the trail.

The position of the boardwalk will suspend users just slightly above the tidal waters of the Schuylkill, somewhat far from shore. 

In fact, the boardwalk will be so close to the water that “once or twice a year, if you have a severe flood or hurricane, the water is going to come over the boardwalk,” Fike said. 

But the boardwalk, like the on-land portions of the Schuylkill River Trail, is designed for that. Much of the structure is concrete, so rust is not a major concern, and the broom finish on the deck surface will keep the boardwalk and ramp from becoming too slippery. The lighting that SRDC hopes to install will be both solar powered and out of the flood plain. (SRDC is working to secure additional funding for lighting, which was initially taken out of the contract for financial reasons.)

The boardwalk is also designed out, away from the shore.

“The trees hang out there, and we had an option of removing the trees, but because of the condition of the bank, quite often the trees are what stabilize the banks,” Fike said. 

To avoid tree conflict, SRDC sent a crew out in kayaks to measure the distance between the shore and the reach of the tree canopy. Then the design firm, URS Corporation, designed the boardwalk 50-feet from the shore, out of reach of any overhanging limbs.

Construction timeline & update

Originally the bridge was scheduled to be complete in August 2014. Now it looks like contractors may need to add a month or two to that estimated completion date, but Fike said for the most part everything is going according to plan. 

On the boardwalk, all of the piers are in place, and half of the pier caps are on. The beams are in place on five or six of the total 21 boardwalk spans. On the ramp portion of the project, all of the beams are in place and the bottom portion of the ramp – where an earthen support wall must be built – is under construction. 

Next, crews will install the remaining pier caps and boardwalk beams and then install the deck. 

All of this work can be spotted from several buildings and bridges in the immediate vicinity of the river, but “the South Street Bridge is where all the action is right now,” Fike said. 

One thing that might not be evident to the naked eye of a curious observer is the tidal force at play. 

“The river has a five to six foot tide here, and the pier caps are impacted by high tide,” Fike wrote in an email. “Therefore the contractor has to adjust his work schedule to ensure that forming and concrete pours are done during the ‘low tide window’ for the pier caps.”

The contractor leading the project is Crossing Construction, assisted by construction management firm Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. URS Corporation designed the boardwalk, and Michael Baker Engineers designed the ramp. 

All photos provided courtesy of Schuylkill River Development Corporation. 

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