INQUIRER: Harried commuters are braced for protracted delays as the long-awaited reconstruction of the South Street Bridge begins tomorrow, closing the historic span over the Schuylkill and necessitating detours expected to last two years. The 23,000 motorists and countless pedestrians and bicyclists who rely on the bridge daily to go between University City and Southwest Center City will have to use alternate routes because the 85-year-old bridge is “structurally deficient,” inspectors say, and must be demolished and rebuilt. “Significant traffic congestion and travel delays are expected,” Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson said of the $67 million project. “We ask Philadelphians for their understanding.” MORE
PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY: The Philadelphia Public Works Department completed construction on the South Street Bridge in 1923. The design of the bridge–which crosses the Schuylkill River to connect southwest Center City to the University of Pennsylvania’s campus–was technologically clever for the time. The drawbridge could be raised for passing ships (this function ceased in the ’50s), and electric cables powered a trolley that carried commuters and shoppers across the river. Stone piers at the base of the bridge supported a lovely promenade that jutted over the water, allowing pedestrians to soak in the waterfront view. But more than 80 years later, the South Street Bridge has lost its charm. MORE
INGA SAFFRON: No matter how many turrets and stainless-steel railings are pasted on this deeply flawed scheme, the current design remains a lost opportunity for Philadelphia. The engineers have dutifully outfitted the proposed span with bike lanes and a ramp connection to Schuylkill Banks park, yet there isn’t an ounce of poetry in its steel bones. After a decade of tinkering with its design, the bridge promises to be little more than a chute for efficiently moving traffic onto the most frightening of the I-76 entry ramps.
If city leaders were seriously interested in branding Philadelphia as a vital modern metropolis, they would have long ago seized on the $50 million bridge project as a chance to make a statement, erect a dramatic gateway to Center City, and forge a gracious pedestrian link between two dynamic neighborhoods. Instead, traffic engineers have been allowed to run the show, with no meaningful direction from the mayor’s office or city planners. Now, the engineers tell us that the bridge’s condition is dire, and that they must start work on a replacement next year. MORE