• Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.
      Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.

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. 

    • The boardwalk will feed into the ramp at the base of the South Street Bridge
      The boardwalk will feed into the ramp at the base of the South Street Bridge
    • The boardwalk was designed 50-feet from the shore to avoid overhanging trees
      The boardwalk was designed 50-feet from the shore to avoid overhanging trees
    • A portion of the 2,000-foot-long boardwalk stands alone in the water
      A portion of the 2,000-foot-long boardwalk stands alone in the water
    • Because this portion of the river is tidal, crews must work in low tide windows
      Because this portion of the river is tidal, crews must work in low tide windows
    • Phases of construction and equipment span the Schuylkill's banks
      Phases of construction and equipment span the Schuylkill's banks
    • Construction is currently centered near the South Street Bridge
      Construction is currently centered near the South Street Bridge
    • All of the beams for the ramp portion of the project are now in place
      All of the beams for the ramp portion of the project are now in place
    • Looking down the future ramp, onlookers will find a clear Center City skyline view
      Looking down the future ramp, onlookers will find a clear Center City skyline view
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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. 

    • A construction worker guides a beam into place as a crane lowers it from above
      A construction worker guides a beam into place as a crane lowers it from above
    • Crews guide one of the ramp's beams into place
      Crews guide one of the ramp's beams into place
    • Crews move one of the ramp's concrete beams into place
      Crews move one of the ramp's concrete beams into place
    • A visible production, the work can be spotted from area bridges and buildings
      A visible production, the work can be spotted from area bridges and buildings
    • A concrete section of the boardwalk is lowered into place
      A concrete section of the boardwalk is lowered into place
    • Construction workers guide a concrete portion of the boardwalk into place as a crane lowers it from above
      Construction workers guide a concrete portion of the boardwalk into place as a crane lowers it from above
    • The river work requires crews use boats and barges
      The river work requires crews use boats and barges
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About the author

Christine Fisher, Transportation reporter

From 2012-2014 Christine covered transportation, writing about everything from pedestrian concerns to bicycle infrastructure, bridges, trail networks, public transit and more. Her favorite assignments sent her bushwhacking through Philadelphia’s yet-to-be-cleared bike trails, catching a glimpse of SEPTA’s inner workings or pounding the pavement to find out what pedestrians really think. Christine also covered community news for Eyes on the Street, where her work ranged from food sovereignty to public art and urban greening. She first joined PlanPhilly in fall 2011 as an intern through a partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. 


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