Schuylkill Project shoots for 2014 Manayunk Bridge trail completion, maintains focus on Venice Island and the canal
January 30, 2013By Matthew Grady for NewsWorks
Complementing the "State of Manayunk" presentation hosted by the Manayunk Development Corporation last week, the Manayunk-based Schuylkill Project highlighted the numerous projects that it is currently overseeing.
Kay Sykora, director of the Schuylkill Project, said that a prime focus for her organization is the numerous recreational trails that lead to Manayunk from Center City as well as those from immediate and outlying suburban areas.
Regardless of their origin, she explained that the trails – and the people who use them – are spurring development in the Manayunk area.
The 'signature project'
Sykora related that work continues with regard to the Manayunk Bridge, which she described as being the "signature project" for her organization. A partnership between the City of Philadelphia and Lower Merion Township, the bridge will serve as a connector between the Cynwyd Heritage Trail opposite Manayunk and recreation trails that currently skirt the eastern banks of the Schuylkill.
With approximately $3.5 million of funding in hand – $2.4 million of which is PennDOT support secured through the city, with the balance coming from or through neighboring Lower Merion or Montgomery County – construction bids will begin in June.
Noting the unique views available from the bridge, Sykora expects that upon its completion, the renovated bridge will be host to events in addition to recreational users. With contracts needing to be in place by the end of 2013, Sykora indicated that work on the bridge is expected to begin in late 2013 and conclude six to eight months later, with a target date for completion in mid-2014.
"It's no longer some number that is five years out," said Jane Lipton, executive director of MDC. "The money is in place – this is a big deal."
Venice Island and Manayunk Canal improvements
Also looming is ongoing work on Lower Venice Island that will reduce stormwater runoff in the Schuylkill River and provide various recreational amenities to neighbors. Sykora noted that construction on the island is currently ahead of schedule.
Tying in with this project is work planned for the Lock Street bridge, which connects the island to Manayunk on the island's southern tip. The planned expansions to the bridge's sidewalks and roadway are expected to provide a better connection to the Main St. corridor. Lipton predicted that this will invite additional motorists and pedestrians to cross the bridge.
"This is going to be the game-changer in terms of this town," said Sykora.
Along with enhancements to the island and its infrastructure, the adjacent Manayunk Canal will also see improvements. An object of the Schuylkill Project's attention since 1993, Sykora said that the Philadelphia Water Department approached her organization with interest in sponsoring the $17 million project, which will introduce fresh water into the canal for the first time in decades and rebuild the canal's sluice house, situated above the controls to the waterway.
"This will change the whole context of the canal," Sykora observed.
Picking up on this theme, Lipton suggested that the controlled flow of the canal could incite additional recreational opportunities in and along the waterway.
The canal project is currently in the permits and engineering phase, but with ever-expanding project parameters, work is expected to conclude in either 2014 or 2015.
Connecting local trails
While not directly a Schuylkill Project, a planned housing development at the former Connelly Containers site in Lower Merion will serve as an important link between recreational trails above and below Manayunk, as the developers of the project have committed to restore the Pencoyd Bridge which connects the Schuylkill-side plot to Main St.
In addition, project developers will also build approximately 2,500 feet of trail along their apartment complex, and will construct a trail head with parking for 16 to 20 vehicles at the terminus of the Pencoyd Bridge.
And while work continues on these major projects, smaller scale projects are also being undertaken.
Fueled by two smaller grants, ambitious planting projects from Shawmont to the Main Street business district are underway, complemented by a dramatic mural project on the Green Lane bridge and banners that will tell the story of Manayunk through imagery and accompanying photographs.
In all, Sykora observed that there are six housing developments planned in and around the Main Street corridor, each directly related to the system of trails that connect in Manayunk.
"Look at the opportunity," she said. "It's all based on the trail system."