Lights, expanded hours coming for Manayunk Bridge

Lights are coming to the Manayunk Bridge, but it might be a while before they get there.

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission approved a $600,000 federal grant for lighting on the iconic span Thursday. The plan is to install 20 lights on the 3,168-foot former rail bridge, which links trail systems in Lower Merion to popular recreational paths along the Schuylkill.

With the funds available, a contract should be completed by the end of the year. Installation may take until 2018, though, said Clarena Tolson, the city's deputy managing director of the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems.

The bridge, which spans the Schuylkill, I-76, and a freight rail line to connect Manayunk with Montgomery County, opened to pedestrians and bikers in late October. The bridge was pitched as a recreational resource and a potential commuting route. Its value to commuters, though, was limited when the lack of lighting meant it had to be closed from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. throughout this winter. The $5.76 million project didn't have the funds to pay for lighting on the bridge or on the Cynwyd Heritage Trail it links to.

"It's going to allow the gates to stay open at night," said Kay Sykora, director of Destination Schuylkill River and a key partner in reopening the bridge. "The moment the gates opened, people were outraged the gates were being shut, there was no way to get across at night."

In the process of renovating the bridge, crews installed conduits to run electrical wiring through, which will make the installation easier, officials said. Even so, a more detailed lighting design needs to be developed, Tolson said.

Once the lighting is operational the bridge will remain open permanently, Sykora said.

"We will just leave it open," she said. "That's really what people wanted."

The bridge lighting was one of 11 Transportation Alternatives Program grants the DVRPC approved Thursday morning. Of the $7.6 million in grants, about $3.8 million went to trail projects in Bucks, Chester, and Montomery Counties. These projects will add about 2.5 miles of trails to the region on the Neshaminy Greenway Trail, Paoli Pike Trail Segment C, Cross County Trail, and Powerline Trail.

An additional $300,000 was dedicated to Safe Spaces for Cyclists, which will pay for improvements to make the roads more bicycle-friendly. Those improvements can include signage, pavement markings, and flexible posts that will physically separate bike lanes from automobile traffic.

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