Philadelphia has applied for a federal permit to build an extension to the Schuylkill River Trail with a bridge along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill that would allow runners, walkers, and cyclists to go over railroad tracks that have long blocked access to the river. It would also allow for an uninterrupted trail from Valley Forge to Bartram’s Garden.

The $43 million project, adding more than a half-mile of trail, is to be paid for through a mix of federal, state, city, and private funding.

The section would start at Christian Street and run south into the Grays Ferry Crescent trail park, and include a pedestrian bridge with two overlooks similar to the Schuylkill Boardwalk at South Street. It would go over an industrial area that includes the rail operations.

Rendering of a planned connector trail on Philadelphia that would include a raised boardwalk and bridge to allow runners, cyclists and walkers to go up and over an industrial area of the east side of the Schuylkill River banks.
Schuylkill River Development Corporation
Rendering of a planned connector trail on Philadelphia that would include a raised boardwalk and bridge to allow runners, cyclists and walkers to go up and over an industrial area of the east side of the Schuylkill River banks.

The new portion would give users a westward view across the river toward the University of Pennsylvania baseball field.

The pedestrian bridge would be about 20 feet above the river when the tide is high and will be accessible by people with disabilities. By comparison, the existing Schuylkill Boardwalk is about four feet over high tide.

“The project has been in the works for years, and we’re just finishing up the design,” said Joseph Syrnick, president of the Schuylkill River Development Corp., a nonprofit managing the project for the city.

He said it’s the last gap in the trail from Montgomery County to Bartram’s Garden. “Because of that, it’s very critical,” Syrnick said.

Syrnick said this segment is the most complex part of the trail. He hopes the project goes to bid in the fall, with possible completion by summer 2023.

Map of a planned connector trail in Philadelphia.
Schuylkill River Development Corporation
Map of a planned connector trail in Philadelphia.

Eventually, the Schuylkill River Trail is to be extended to the Delaware River, but there are no firm plans yet for when that will be completed.

The new plan was filed Monday with the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit needed to build the bridge over land and water, along with some small dredging of the river. The corps has to decide whether the project’s cumulative impacts are in the public interest, including consideration for conservation, economics, aesthetics, and environmental concerns.

“The purpose of the proposed project is to provide a safe and efficient public recreational facility along the Schuylkill River waterfront within the city of Philadelphia,” the application reads. “Closing this trail gap will connect several trail segments, making the entire trail system more functional and creating a major attraction for the entire regional trail network.”

The new segment would include 2,730 feet for walking, running or biking along the river’s eastern bank between Christian and 34th Streets.

Rendering of a planned connector trail.
Schuylkill River Development Corporation
Rendering of a planned connector trail.

The proposed trail is divided into five sections and would extend over the river for 775 feet with a cable bridge. The bridge would carry the trail for about 650 feet along the river running parallel to the eastern bank.

It would be about 25 feet wide, with the two overlooks roughly 50 feet wide, and would need to be supported by pylons and piers placed in the river.

In addition, the trail would include a 700-foot section that would require construction of a bridge over railroad tracks at Stanley Street. That work will be completed in a second phase of the project.

The new trail section will also become part of the larger Circuit Trails network.

The corps is taking public comments on whether there should be a public hearing on the proposal. Comments can be sent by email, within 30 days, to District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District, at PhiladelphiaDistrictRegulatory@usace.army.mil. Comments can also be submitted through Postal Service mail to District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District, Wanamaker Building, 100 Penn Square East, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107-3390.