UNION TWP. >> As of next year, avid cyclists and hikers will have plenty to look forward to when warm weather makes its return.
On Saturday, Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area celebrated the project initiation of a new Schuylkill River bridge that is expected to dramatically improve safety for those who need to cross Route 724 in Union Township while using the trail.
“Everything that we do boils down to our mission,” said Elaine Paul Schaefer, executive director of Schuylkill River Greenways. “Our mission in a nutshell is to champion the Schuylkill River, the watershed and the communities around the Schuylkill River and their heritage, their culture and their economy. We do that by bringing people to the river. We connect communities to the river ... This trail is one of the most important tools we use to further that mission. This organization, we build the trail, we maintain the trail, we promote the trail and we improve the trail. This project is an improvement to the trail.”
The pedestrian crossing at Route 724 and North Main Street near Monocacy Station is currently a difficult maneuver for anyone travelling the trail. The street crossing is at the bottom of a somewhat steep slope along the trail that requires pedestrians and riders to stop and make sure traffic isn’t coming around either bend on both sides. The new bridge will allow pedestrians to cross over Route 724 with ease.
The bridge cost is estimated at about $1 million, according to the Schuylkill River Greenways. In December, Schuylkill River Greenways was awarded a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant totaling $516,501 to build the bridge. The grant will cover construction expenses, according to Robert Folwell, Schuylkill River Greenways trail project manager. In addition, $325,636 was secured from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to cover design, inspection, engineering and administrative costs associated with the project.
In honor of her late husband, Dr. Richard Whittaker, Peggy Whittaker also made a significant donation to cover what was left to fund for the project. The bridge will be named in honor of her late husband, an avid cyclist and supporter of the Schuylkill River Trail.
“I know the importance of this. I often talk about community and community is made up of people who live in that community and care. For me, to have a doctor whose widow is so for community and who has the insight and the challenge to get it done is just awesome,” State Rep. David Maloney, R-130th Dist., said on Saturday. “I want to bring my grandchildren here and it’s been a tremendous concern of mine for safety to cut across this highway, so coming down that dip and coming across that highway is always a major concern. I can’t say there are too many projects that I’ve been involved with in my district that make such sense for public safety, for the historical significance that has been mentioned, for the community and for those who want to come here.”
The bridge is currently in its design phase and officials hope to go out to bid in the fall, so that construction can begin early next year, with completion expected by the end of 2019.
The Schuylkill River Trail is a multi-use trail that, when complete, will run an estimated 130 miles along the entire length of the river. There are currently more than 60 miles complete, including a section of over 30 miles stretching from Philadelphia to Phoenixville. That section will connect with the Pottstown to Reading section in the next several years, according to The Schuylkill River Greenways.
To learn more about the Schuylkill River Trail, visit www.schuylkillriver.org.