South Street Bridge, absent for 2 years, reopens

Pedestrians enjoy their last exclusive access to the bridge as the first car approaches. Bicyclists and dog walkers were also out.
Pedestrians enjoy their last exclusive access to the bridge as the first car approaches. Bicyclists and dog walkers were also out.
Posted: November 07, 2010

Like homeowners inspecting a major renovation, pedestrians and bicyclists swarmed over the new South Street Bridge on Saturday to check out the handiwork.

Before the span reopened to cars later in the afternoon, it became a kind of elevated urban park, filled happily with about 1,000 milling people who had waited 23 months for the reconstruction to be complete.

They exulted over the wide sidewalks and the well-marked bike lanes, and they practically cheered the gray asphalt that felt solid and permanent beneath their feet. Those who brought their dogs were suitably careful to scoop up quickly after their animals, who seemed decidedly less impressed than the happy humans who got their bridge back.

"Oh, not having this bridge was hard," said Janet Monge, 57, a professor of human evolution at the University of Pennsylvania whose West Philadelphia neighborhood is now reconnected to Center City via the bridge. She said that during the closure, her commute from her South Philadelphia home to her office had ballooned from 20 minutes to an hour.

"This bridge is key for us in this area. It was two years of pain waiting for it. And now it'll be nice to drive on something state-of-the-art as opposed to what it was before, a state of death."

While that might have been a bit of an exaggeration, the point was clear.

The old span was literally "falling apart for years, with large chunks falling into the Schuylkill," said Mayor Nutter, on hand to ceremonially reopen the bridge.

Another one of the bridge celebrants on hand, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Phila.), unfondly remembered "running for my life" whenever he had to cross the bridge by foot in the past.

While the reopening was not as momentous as, say, the completion of the transcontinental railroad in Utah in 1869, many of those who participated in the construction took pains to praise one another for getting the job done on budget ($67 million) and on time (actually one month early).

"This was the largest project ever for the Streets Department," enthused department commissioner Clarena Tolson. "It's a rebirth."

"This bridge has been nothing but difficult" to build, noted Jack Lutz, chief bridge engineer, referring to both physical and civic obstacles, which included battles among planners and neighbors about bridge amenities.

Lutz later added triumphantly, "But it will last 100 years."

There's more to do. Other architectural touches that will not affect traffic will not be completed until June.

But what has been completed so far seemed to please those who came to revel in the restored linkage between neighborhoods.

"It's great," noted Lorenda Levy, 49, a West Philadelphia fourth-grade teacher for Beulah Baptist Christian School. "I'm here because I'm being part of history. It's exciting to be on this bridge. It's well worth seeing."

Levy and others took pains to point out the great view of the Center City skyline visible from the bridge. And as though to underscore the point, several people snapped pictures of the downtown buildings that seemed close enough to touch.

Most enthusiastic among the Saturday infrastructure-partyers were bicyclists who rolled back and forth across the span, in thrall of the sweet smoothness beneath them.

"This beautiful new bridge is continuing Philadelphia on the path toward being one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country," said Breen Goodwin, education director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

As pedestrians left the roadway and took their proper place on the bridge sidewalks, they cheered the appearance of the ceremonial first car to cross the span at 3:55 p.m. - a red Toyota Prius hybrid from Philly CarShare, a nonprofit group that provides cars on an hourly basis.

"The city asked us to be first," driver Maggie McCuiston, a member of the services department, said proudly.

Soon after, the regular rumbling municipal cavalcade of vehicles was allowed to drive across and make the bridge their own.

"The bridge is a win for Philadelphia," Nutter declared, before heading to a bridge-opening party in Grays Ferry. "This is a bridge to somewhere from somewhere, and that somewhere is Philadelphia."

For video of the ceremony for the bridge opening, visit

Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or

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