The Reading Viaduct’s transformation into the Center City Rail Park will soon be complete, but the original structure won’t be completely demolished, as was originally part of the plan. On Friday, the Center City District confirmed the new Rail Park will open in June and preserve the original historic structure of the elevated tracks built in the 1800s for commuter trains.
“The big change is that we were going to have to demolish and replace the old bridge, with great reluctance,” said Paul Levy, executive director of Center City District. "We went back to the city and said we want to preserve it, here are some ways to reinforce it."
Center City District (CCD) said renovating the 130-year-old railroad bridge, instead of demolishing and rebuilding it, will both cost less than planned and open the Rail Park earlier than projected. While they originally wanted it to open in March, that got pushed back to July due to needed demolition. Now the opening date has been moved up to June.
“Now we have the best of all possible solutions,” Levy said, “and it will open right at the beginning of spring.”
Levy said that after Urban Engineers, a Philly-based design and engineering team, evaluated the bridge, they determined it was sound enough to sustain pedestrian traffic with a couple additional supports. The bridge will also be subject to annual inspections. CCD said the renovation plan is the best option for a “cost, appearance and safety perspective.”
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Contractors have already poured new concrete and been working on “installing benches, platforms, trees, walkways and lighting” to prepare the Rail Park for its debut," CCD said. They’ve also been redeveloping the 1300 block of Noble Street as part of the $10.3 million-budgeted first phase of the Rail Park’s redevelopment.
“Phase one is for people to walk to the end and say, ‘Is that all?’ And that is certainly not all,” Levy said. “The second phase is the elevated portion to the east that belongs to Reading International. Now that we have a completion date for phase one, we’ll be talking to them about plans for phase two.”
The former Reading Viaduct has sat unused through Center City Philadelphia since 1984. Overgrown with weeds and other detritus, it was known mostly as a hideaway for undesirables and wild walk for artistic types. Over the years, someone even set up a swing on the unused railroad tracks.
“The success of New York City's High Line, however, prompted renewed interest in Philadelphia's elevated tracks both as a public park and as a catalyst for redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhood,” Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said in a press release.