Twenty-three years later, our region is finally getting its bridge back.
On Friday, bicyclists will finally have a real bridge trail between the Schuylkill River Trail and Valley Forge National Historical Park when Sullivan’s Bridge, a bicycle/pedestrian bridge over two decades in the making, gets its ribbon cutting.
The bridge will create a new path for cyclists in our 9-county region enjoying the recreation trails of the Circuit. How we got to this point—and why it took more than two decades–is one of those “All’s well that ends well” stories, even if it’s been a long, long time coming. All historical images in this blog were provided by Mike Szilagyi, unless otherwise noted.
An original one-lane bridge, called the Betzwood Bridge, was built in West Norriton in the 1800s and had always been a nice connection for cyclists getting into Valley Forge National Historic Park. The bridge remained, in one form or another, through most of the 20th Century.
In 1991, PennDOT decided they had to tear down the bridge due to “severe metal corrosion.” They closed it.
And no replacement was ever planned. The circumstance forced cyclists to go three miles out of their way to the Pawlings Road Bridge in Audubon, “or head up a steep embankment and ride along with traffic on Route 422,” according to a February 8, 1993 Times Herald article.
That situation: Not ideal.
Cyclists and hikers were not happy with the decision to close the bridge, cutting off an important route in the Delaware Valley.
So they showed up in West Norriton with wire cutters to put an end to the chain link fence and re-open the bridge. They also advocated at the time for a protected bike lane on Route 422, as it was called in the Times Herald the time, “a barrier erected … that would separate a bicycling lane from the rest of traffic.”
PennDOT wouldn’t budge. Instead, they offered a shuttle service for cyclists looking to get over the bridge, which was hardly used.
The bridge was finally taken down for good in 1995.
Some cyclists then put their heads together and came up with a compromise: A catwalk-like 3-foot bridge linking West Norriton with Valley Forge.
It got the job done. But it felt dangerous to lots of cyclists who used it.
“Narrow and unsettling as it was, the “boardwalk” perched on the edge of the 422 high bridge was a practical solution to what seemed, at the time, to be an insoluble problem,” says Mike Szilagyi. “The boardwalk turned out to be a vital link that served countless thousands of cyclists for more years than any of us could have anticipated.”
Amanda Lozinak of Bike Chester County told the Inquirer earlier this year that the former bike/ped bridge’s wood and nails were loose, providing an anxious ride over the water.
“I don’t think any of us will miss it,” continues Szilagyi.
The new Sullivan’s Bridge, named for Major John Sullivan, the military officer charged by George Washington with building a bridge across the Schuylkill in 1777, will be a 14-foot wide, 602-foot long bike/ped crossing and is costing $9.2 million.
“The installation of Sullivan’s Bridge creates a critical link in the Circuit Trails, a vast regional trail network composed of hundreds of miles of interconnected trails in Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey,” notes a Circuit Trails press release in anticipation of Friday’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
“The cyclist community has been waiting for the completion of Sullivan’s Bridge for some time now and we are very pleased with the results,” notes Sarah Clark Stuart, Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “Sullivan’s Bridge is a permanent, safe connection and another big step forward for the Circuit Trails.”
Friday’s Ribbon Cutting will take place at 10:30am at the new Sullivan’s Bridge on South Trooper Road in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.