When Will $5M, 1/4-Mile Schuylkill River Trail Extension Open?

Limited access has made construction of trail extension south of the South Street Bridge a difficult process

Philadelphia’s popular Schuylkill River Trail is getting (a little) longer before the end of the year thanks to a $5-million stretch of path.

You may have noticed the partially paved extension, which runs a little more than a ¼ mile, at the end of the Schuylkill River Trail Boardwalk that is currently fenced off but looking closer to ready every week. 

"People are anxious to get in there and we are anxious to get it open," Schuylkill River Development Corporation president and CEO Joseph Syrnick told NBC10.

But you won’t be able to run, walk or bike on the $5-million extension until fall at the earliest. About 80 percent of the paving ($3.5-million Phase 1) is done on the 1,400-foot extension of the recreational trail that will carry it south of the South Street Bridge and past the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s new Roberts Center, which includes bridge access to the new trail.

"We describe it now as South to Christian Street," Syrnick said, noting he doesn’t expect the name to stick. "It's just basically a bike ride down or a run down and a run (or ride) back."

The second, $1.5-million phase that includes laying down top soil and compost, irrigation installation and planting still needs to be completed before anyone can step foot on the trail.

"Mostly what needs to be done relates to preparing elements of landscaping," Syrnick said. "Right now, I believe most of the planting will be done during the month of October."

Work began on the extension in spring 2016.

The extension is entirely on land – unlike the boardwalk, which stretches over the Schuylkill River – tucked between the river and the railroad tracks. Constrained access to the area has made construction difficult, including needing to truck in materials via the boardwalk and having crews work from barges on the river, Syrnick said.

"It's a lot less efficient way of doing it," he said. And, it's more expensive as the entire project comes out to about $5 million.

The cost – a combination of private and public funds – could have been even more as the bids to SRDC initially came in higher, forcing the group to focus on functionality and basic infrastructure, Syrnick said.

"We're happy to get it done as it was an extremely, surprisingly difficult section of trail to build for something that's a trail on land," Syrnick said. "The construction of it was way more complicated than you would think – you pay for that in the cost."

Syrnick hopes the PRDC can get the extension opened by "roughly Halloween" with some landscaping still possibly needing to be done at that time.

The SRDC estimates that people take about 29,000 trips on the existing section of trail each week.

The new section will surely draw people exercising but it could also draw some people looking to take that perfect photo.

"There will be three outlooks," Syrnick said.

The tedious extension also sets up the SRDC’s larger vision of extending the off-road trail from the Fairmount Water Works to Bartram’s Garden.

"It is essentially a dead end and will be that way until we get the big Christian to Crescent Project moving," Syrnick said.

Construction on that greater project, which includes a bridge over the Schuylkill River, isn't expected to begin until at least 2020, according to Schuylkill Banks.

Check back with NBC10 this fall as we hope to bring viewers a first look at the nearly finished extension.

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