Pedestrian paradise? Street closure near Independence Mall is a history lesson of sorts
Fear of a street collapse has forced road closures near Independence Hall that are expected to last at least two weeks.
An 8-foot-deep hole at the intersection of Fifth and Chestnut Streets in the middle of Philadelphia’s historic district disrupted vehicle traffic but, on a sun-soaked Saturday, proved fascinating to those on foot.
Crews from the Philadelphia Water Department had opened up Fifth Street earlier in the week to fix a defective vent pipe, exposing the city’s ancient sewer system beneath the granite cobblestones. The work closed a stretch of roadway on Chestnut Street, between Fifth and Fourth Streets, and on Fifth Street, between Chestnut and Walnut Streets, near Independence National Historical Park.
The closures turned out to be a pedestrian’s paradise, and tourists took it as an opportunity to walk up to the hole and peer directly into the past.
“If you look down there, it’s amazing because you can see all the many iterations, or layers, throughout history of the public plumbing system,” said George Bozzuti, 60, who was visiting from Connecticut. “Some of that stuff in the ground is probably 100 years old.”
Water Department spokesperson John DiGiulio said that the damaged vent pipe was discovered on Wednesday after a utility crew with Verizon cut into the street and noticed “a large void under the roadway.” The layer of dirt fill that sits beneath the concrete had washed away, an indication of a pipe fracture, he said.
DiGiulio said city officials decided to close the area to traffic out of concern that the weight of a car or bus could cause a street collapse. He said the stretch of Fifth Street, between Chestnut and Walnut, will remain closed for at least two more weeks as repairs continue. But, he said, the city hopes to reopen at least one lane on Chestnut Street each night after crews go home for the evening, sometime after 8:30.
Natural wedding-day jitters aside, groom Ben Gitter said he got a little worried when he got to the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, where his guests were booked this weekend, and realized the street in front of the hotel was closed to traffic.
Gitter, 30, and his bride-to-be, Natalie Iannucci, 29, both of Broomall, used it as an opportunity to pose for wedding pictures in the middle of Fifth Street. They seemed undaunted by the giant orange traffic barricades on either end of the block or the backhoe in the background of their wedding-party photos.
“It turned out to be a huge plus,” Gitter said.