South Street Bridge expected to reopen in November

South Street Bridge rendering Photo credit: H2L2 Architects & Planners

The architectural rendering shows a stylized traffic span with lighted posts and plenty of room for walkers and cyclists to share with motorists. This, city officials say, is what the new South Street Bridge will look like when it’s finally finished—and the expected date of completion is now only a few months away.

Thanksgiving 2010 is the city’s new target date, about one month earlier than the $67.4 million project was originally expected to be completed, according to the Philadelphia Streets Department. By the end of November, city officials say, the bridge will reopen to all modes of traffic.

“The reconstruction of the South Street Bridge is the largest and most complex project in the history of the Streets Department,” says David Perri, the department’s chief engineer and surveyor. “The new bridge will be a bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly connection between Center City and University City. It is a vital link in the city’s infrastructure and we are looking forward to opening the bridge this fall.”

Originally constructed as a drawbridge, the South Street Bridge first opened in 1876. It consisted of five spans measuring 2,000 feet in length. A more modern version of the drawbridge was completed in 1923. It was that version that withstood 85 years of increasing traffic, population growth, pollution and basic wear and tear. By 2008, the bridge was enduring 23,000 vehicles a day and suffering from serious deterioration, with concrete chunks crumbling from the structure.

When Mayor Michael Nutter announced the rebuilding project in December of 2008, he called the South Street Bridge “a poster child for what happens when we do not invest in our cities and in our infrastructure.”

The bridge’s new design underwent several rounds of revisions, with input from civic groups, community leaders and business leaders. The final design—created by a team led by the Philadelphia architectural firm H2L2—calls for four glass turrets that will light up at night and will serve as the bridge’s structural anchors. The glass-and-stainless-steel turrets will be illuminated by LED lights, capable of changing colors and protected by impact-resistant safety glass.

Closed to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic since December 2008, the bridge has already undergone the rebuilding of its piers, abutments and 11 girder spans, city officials explain. The concrete bridge deck also has been poured on five of bridge’s 12 spans.

Work still left to be accomplished includes fabrication of the railings and barriers, installation of the girder spans over the CSX rail lines and the final pours of the concrete deck. When complete, the bridge will not only accommodate cars, but will also have designated bicycle lanes, pedestrian access to the Schuylkill River Trail and pedestrian overlooks.

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