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Update, May 21: The construction detour will last at least until late June, according to PennDOT, due to “sub-surface obstructions in the river bank.”

A sinking portion of the Schuylkill River Trail is finally getting fixed because the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is wrapping the repairs into one of its larger renovation projects.

Construction on the bulkhead beneath the Chestnut Street Bridge, which started Feb. 15, means people who use the popular waterside jogging and biking path will have to make a detour: the trail is closed in both directions for up to three months.

The pavement at that portion of the pathway, which jags at a 90-degree angle to weave around the bridge piers, has been compromised for the better part of a decade. It has stretched to 5 x 10 feet in size, according to the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, the nonprofit that oversees trail maintenance, and has since been covered with steel plates.

In 2017, someone put up a parody sign on the fencing wrapped around what was then a gaping crater:

“This hole, and this GD fence have been here since I moved to Philly over three years ago,” the banner read. “We could argue that at least this obstruction is located in an area that doesn’t have a blind corner or becomes a bottleneck for runners and bikers. OH WAIT. JK.”

At the time, officials told Billy Penn the fix would cost between $900,000 and $1 million.

Passive aggressive sign complete with hashtag pun from philadelphia

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Neither the Schuylkill River Development Corporation or the Department of Parks and Rec, which owns the trail, had that kind of money in their budget. But PennDOT does.

The price tag of the repairs to the retaining wall that holds up the SRT as it threads alongside Center City is still around $1 million, according to PennDOT spokesperson Brad E. Rudolph. “That seems accurate at this time,” he said.

A big chunk of change for a city department, but a drop in the bucket compared to the state agency’s ongoing $104 million project to rehabilitate a series of bridges, viaducts and onramps that connect Center City with 30th Street Station and I-76. Some of the structures involved were built in the late 1800s, per PennDOT, and 80% of the financing comes from the federal government.

(That effort is also why there’s a small dinghy hanging off the underside of the Chestnut Street Bridge — it’s a worker rescue boat in case of emergencies.)

The rescue dinghy as seen in October 2019 Credit: Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

For people expecting to bike past that point, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia created a map that outlines recommended detours for northbound and southbound routes. All other access points will remain open, including the closest ones: across the CSX tracks at Locust Street and the ramp descending from the Market Street Bridge.

It’s a worthwhile disruption, said the Schuylkill River Development Corporation: “The trail closure is of relatively short duration and addresses a trail safety issue that is otherwise un-funded.”

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.