Cyclists trekking from Pennsylvania to New Jersey face an irritating obstacle when they reach the eastern side of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge: about 25 feet of stairs down to the street.
That will be changing. The Delaware River Port Authority on Wednesday approved a $7.8 million renovation that will add a ramp to the south walkway over the bridge at its New Jersey terminus. The work, to be performed by South State Inc. of Bridgeton, N.J., is scheduled to begin this fall, said Mike Williams, a DRPA spokesman. It should be completed in spring 2019. The ramp will end near the Rutgers-Camden campus.
The cost of installing the ramp will be defrayed by a $3.8 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration and a $400,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation, the DRPA said.
The vote at the authority's monthly board meeting was praised by the region's cycling advocates as a key connector to trails between the states. Groups such as the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia are in the midst of a years-long push to build 750 miles of trails in Pennsylvania and New Jersey called the Circuit Trails. The network currently includes about 320 miles of trails.
"This is one of those important junctions that needs to be in place for the circuit to actually function as a trail network," said John Boyle, research director with the Bicycle Coalition.
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge is one of only two pedestrian crossings over the Delaware River in the Philadelphia region. The other is the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, Boyle said, and that bridge's pedestrian access is so narrow, bikers must walk their bicycles across the span.
The ramp planned for the Ben Franklin will also be an asset to people with physical limitations, he said. There is currently no way for a wheelchair to climb onto the 1.5-mile bridge's walking path in New Jersey. The Pennsylvania side of the bridge does have a walkway without stairs.
While work is underway, pedestrians and cyclists crossing the bridge will use the walkway on the structure's northern side.
The north walkway is not expected to get a ramp any time soon, Boyle said. But there's still more work he'd like to see done to the bridge to make it easier to cross. The bridge's south walkway now includes a narrow passage barely wide enough for one person.