Here’s How Things Are Going With All That I-676 Bridge Construction

Everything's right on schedule, say officials, despite challenges caused by the pope, the DNC and the Verizon strike. A little more than one year in, the project is still on track to finish in November 2019.

Construction continues on the 20th Street bridge, one of 7 to be rebuilt by 2019.

Construction continues on the 20th Street bridge, one of seven to be rebuilt by 2019. Photo courtesy of PennDOT.

It’s been a little over a year since the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation began the $64.8 million project to rebuild the bridges over I-676, and according to three project insiders, things are running right on schedule. Philly Mag recently spoke with Gene Blaum, Assistant Press Secretary for PennDOT, Jim Pezzotti, a designer with Pennoni Associates, and construction manager Dave Palmer of Urban Engineers.

The four-year, dual-phase project aims to rebuild seven bridges over I-676. The first four bridges — 20th Street, 19th Street, and two pedestrian bridges — will be completed during Stage 1, which ends in June of 2017. Stage 2 will tackle the last three — 18th, 21st and 22nd streets — with a projected completion date of November 2019. A construction schedule details the project’s entire trajectory. A photo gallery and before-and-after renderings can also be found online.

Contractors are currently in Stage 1 Phase 4, which is exactly where they planned to be despite an early setback. The Verizon strike this past April delayed work on the 19th Street bridge. “Some of the other utility work that was done on that bridge was able to get done a little bit faster than we had in the schedule,” said Palmer, who credited PECO with making up for the lost time.

Contractors and engineers have also had to work around the many events on Philly’s social calendar in the past year. “The two major ones, fortunately, are out of the way,” said Pezzotti. Construction was shut down entirely during the World Meeting of Families and the Democratic National Convention. The next major hurdle is the Centennial of the Parkway. Because of the celebration, June 29, 2017, is a hard deadline for Stage 1.

The bridges were deemed “structurally deficient” when the project was originally announced back in April of 2015. According to Pezzotti, this is due primarily to age; the bridges were built in the 1950s. “Structures essentially reach the end of their useful life after being out in the environment for 60-plus years,” Pezzotti said. Luckily, 2019 will most likely be the last time we see construction here for a while — the new bridges have a projected shelf life of 75 years.

In addition to replacing bridges, the project is also taking on several landscaping and hardscaping initiatives, all in accordance with the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Design Guidelines. These include granite benches and pavers, aesthetic treatments, and street lighting. Pedestrians and visitors to the area will enjoy wider walkways and more aesthetically pleasing views.

“There’s more than 10,000 plants, bulbs, shrubs [and] trees that are going in as part of the project,” said Pezzotti.

Protection of the many famous statues along the parkway has been a priority since the beginning of the project. In addition to wooden coverings over the structures, vibration monitoring technology has been installed to ensure there is no damage during demolition, excavation, or construction.

“They took a base reading just to see what the day-to-day pre-construction vibrations would be,” said Pezzotti. “So far, so good. There hasn’t been anything that’s adversely affected the sculptures.”

You can keep up with the project, and all traffic changes and detours, on the state’s website or on Twitter. Posters with QR codes for smartphone scanning are also posted on fences for visitors.

A wooden barrier has been erected around the Civil War Sailor's monument and several other statues to protect them from construction.

A wooden barrier has been erected around the Civil War Sailor’s monument and several other statues to protect them from construction. | Photo courtesy of PennDOT