South Street Bridge set to open once again

Hey, we are getting South Street back.

After more than three years of debate, deconstruction and re-engineering, the South Street Bridge will allow pedestrian, bike and vehicular traffic access across the Schuylkill River when it reopens Saturday, November 6.

Starting at 2 p.m., the public will be able to stroll around the new span without having to stop, wait and look both ways.

(Check out the size of the sidewalks and bike lanes in the photo slideshow)

Following the dedication ceremony at 3 p.m., the bridge will be open for cars and bikes.

Despite years of sometimes acrimonious discussion between neighborhood groups and the city, the makeover is receiving kudos. Streets Department Commissioner Clarena I.W. Tolson notes that this major construction project is being delivered to travelers and tax payers ahead of schedule and on budget. “The earlier than scheduled reopening of the South Street Bridge is a cause for celebration, particularly for the local community and all those who rely on the bridge to cross the Schuylkill River. All Philadelphians are invited to join the reopening ceremony and be among the first pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the bridge. It will be a unique opportunity to walk and bike in the travel lanes of the bridge and enjoy fabulous views of Philadelphia’s skyline,” she said.

In early 2006, local elected officials, community leaders, business owners and civic groups joined together to form the South Street Bridge Coalition. The Coalition pushed for improvements to the design of the bridge. The collaboration between the Coalition and Streets Department resulted in a more balanced pedestrian-, bicycle- and vehicle-friendly design that serves the needs of all bridge users. New features include wider sidewalks, a mid-block signalized pedestrian/bicycle crossing at the Schuylkill River trail, wider green colored bicycle lanes, a reduction in vehicle lanes, relocation of street lights, and traffic signal adjustments optimized for pedestrian movements and safety.

“We will have a very walkable, bikeable, drivable, and completely useable bridge in the near future that will give everyone access to two great neighborhoods as well as to Schuylkill Banks,” said architect James Campbell of the South Street Bridge Coalition.

The federal government will pick up the bulk of the $67 million tab – 80 percent. The state will pay 15 percent and the city 5 percent. When the bridge first went to design phase in 1995, the price tag was estimated at less than half that, in the low $30 million range, said Rina Cutler, the deputy mayor for transportation who used to work for PennDOT.

The new bridge and viaducts – elevated roadways – span about 2,000 feet. The roadway will cross over Amtrak, CSX and SEPTA rail lines and pass under the CSX railroad high line. It includes new pedestrian entrances to the University City Regional Rail Station and University of Pennsylvania’s Hollenback Hall.

The project is the largest the city’s streets department has handled since it was created in the early 1950s, department chief engineer and surveyor David J. Perri said.

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