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In Philly, country’s oldest working bridge undergoing construction

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The Philly bridge has been in use for over 300 years

PennDot

The oldest active bridge in the nation, located in Northeast Philly, is getting a tune-up.

The Frankford Avenue Bridge, which was built in 1697 and reconstructed in 1893, is the first focus of PennDot’s new $7.2 million bridge improvement project, which will target six other bridges in Montgomery and Delaware Counties, according to an announcement from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) last week.

Construction will begin Monday, March 26, on the worn-down Frankford Avenue Bridge (also known as the Pennypack Creek Bridge), which sits at 73 feet long over Pennypack Creek near Solly Avenue in the Holmesburg neighborhood of Northeast Philly. Out of the total improvement project costs, $3.2 million—nearly half of the overall budget—will go toward removing and rebuilding parts of the Philly bridge, according to Bob Kent, spokesperson for PennDot.

The north spandrel wall and the bridge barrier will need to be removed and replaced. Crews will also repair concrete and stone masonry in the arch barrel, and reconstruct both the damaged parapet walls and sidewalks along the bridge, the department said.

PennDot made the decision to repair parts of the bridge after an annual inspection, Kent said. He added that the bridge wasn’t unsafe, but that the repairs are more a matter of prevention and preservation.

“Stones are being pushed outward,” Kent said, adding that the bridge is structurally deficient in its current state and has a 20-ton weight limit. Once the construction is completed, that restriction will be lifted.

The state is looking to preserve most parts of the bridge, like the existing pedestrian railing, which they want to salvage and reuse. They’ve worked closely with the national historical society to plan the repairs, said Kent.

PennDot

“There will be no adverse effect on the historical nature of the bridge,” he explained.

But there may be a strain on transportation. The bridge carries about 15,000 vehicles and the Route 66 trolley across it every day, according to Kent. For the five months of construction, the bridge and its adjoining road will be closed between Solley Avenue and Ashburner Street, PennDot said. Drivers will be instructed to take Rhawn Street, Torresdale Avenue and Linden Avenue instead. SEPTA has a plan for the Route 66 trolley, Kent said, though he didn’t speak to what it was.

The Frankford Avenue Bridge is an—often overlooked—historic landmark in the city. It was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June of 1988, Kent said, but its history dates back over three centuries.

William Penn commissioned the bridge in the late 1600s, looking to create a path from his mansion in the suburbs to Philadelphia, according to a Philly.com article. The bridge saw multitudes of historic moments, including—possibly most notably—delegates crossing the bridge from New York to Philadelphia to draft the Declaration of Independence, according to the Library of Congress. It was first paved in 1803 and, nearly a century later, was widened to allow cars to pass.

The entire project—including construction on the six other bridges—is funded with 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funds. The state expects to complete the construction to all seven bridges by the end of 2019.