The story of how the Manayunk Bridge Trail came about is a story of willpower. It’s a story of how when communities articulate a shared vision; when elected officials step up and find the funding to make it possible; when transit, utility companies and municipal agencies collaborate to realize the vision in record time, political and civic will can create high quality public spaces that are a legacy for future generations.
The Manayunk Bridge was built in 1918 by the Schuylkill Valley Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad to replace a wrought-iron truss “S” bridge predecessor completed in 1884. The bridge was acquired by SEPTA in 1976 and then closed in 1986 due to disrepair. SEPTA terminated service at the Barmouth, Manayunk and Ivy Ridge stations along that rail line, truncating it at the Cynwyd Station. (Manayunk and Ivy Ridge had and still have stops on the separate Norristown line.)
Between 2008 and 2010, SEPTA removed the track on the rail bed, opening up the possibility of converting it to trail. Two community groups, Friends of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail in Lower Merion and Ivy Ridge Green in Roxborough/Manayunk worked vigorously to remove vegetation and trash, demonstrating the possibility of restoring the rail line “right of way” into a multi-use trail. Many clean ups, walks, and meetings were held to raise public awareness about the possibility of restoring the 19th century rail line into a 21st century bicycle-pedestrian corridor. The Commissioners of Lower Merion Township leased the railbed for the Cynwyd Trail and the Manayunk Bridge from SEPTA and raised the funds necessary to construct the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, which opened in late October 2011.
In 2008, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia staff met and came to know the individuals and organizations who were working together to create a trail on the old railbed. At a meeting of the Lower Merion Historical Society and a walk/bike ride afterwards to see the railbed, the bridge and the possible connection down to the west side of the Schuylkill River where two additional bridges existed (the Lock Street and Pencoyd Bridges), it was clear that this potential trail should be connected to the Schuylkill River Trail and that the Manayunk Bridge would provide the reconnection that Lower Merion/West Philadelphia and Manayunk/Roxborough were seeking.
The Manayunk Bridge became one of nine identified gaps in the Complete the Trail campaign that the Coalition launched with the Manayunk Development Corporation, Schuylkill River Development Corporation, Pennsylvania Environmental Corporation and other organizations in 2008-9.
In 2010, it was included in a large proposal written for 6 counties by the Coalition and Pennsylvania Environmental Council that was submitted to the US Department of Transportation for a grant to build 17 segments of trails.
Ultimately, the USDOT awarded a TIGER grant for only 10 of those trail segments situated in Philadelphia and Camden, and unfortunately, the Manayunk Bridge wasn’t funded, it was considered a Montgomery County project in the application.
Nevertheless, those who were disapointed about the Manayunk Bridge didn’t have long to stay so. Shortly after the TIGER grant was announced, Mayor Nutter and then-Montgomery County Commissioner/Chair of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Joseph Hoeffel, met to discuss transportation projects of regional significance. They agreed that the Manayunk Bridge was something the two jurisdictions should work together on.
Later that year, the William Penn Foundation and Pennsylvania’s Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources awarded grants to the Manayunk Development Corporation to conduct a feasibility study of the Manayunk Bridge and Ivy Ridge Trail. Those two grants brought all of the stakeholders together to start figuring out how to make the bridge and trail possible.
In late 2010, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities applied for a $1.3 million grant from PennDOT’s Pennsylvania Community and Transportation Initiative for the Bridge. This led to the separation of the two projects (Manayunk Bridge from Ivy Ridge Trail) and allowed the consultants (Whitman Requardt & Associates LLP) to start designing the trail on top of the bridge.
Ultimately, the cost of designing and building the Manayunk Bridge Trail was $5.76 million. PennDOT contributed approximately $4.5 million for the project including $1.3 million secured by the City of Philadelphia through PennDOT’s Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative program and $204,000 secured with the assistance of Montgomery County via the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program.
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Regional Trail Program, generously underwritten by the William Penn Foundation, contributed $460,000 for its design.
The William Penn Foundation also directly contributed $50,000 in support for the design of the project. Lower Merion Township contributed $250,000 in capital funds to the project and secured an additional $500,000 Pennsylvania DCNR Community Conservation Partnerships program grant. In addition, SEPTA generously provided the bridge asset upon which the trail was built through a lease to the City of Philadelphia.