Feds fund reconstruction of aging Wissahickon bridges

by Carla Robinson
Posted 5/8/24

The nearly 200-year-old Valley Green and Bells Mill Road bridges in the Wissahickon Valley Park will soon undergo a much-needed reconstruction.

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Feds fund reconstruction of aging Wissahickon bridges


The nearly 200-year-old Valley Green and Bells Mill Road bridges in the Wissahickon Valley Park will soon undergo a much-needed reconstruction thanks to a $14.2 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The funding, part of a federal program designed to strengthen transportation infrastructure against climate-related threats, aims to improve the bridges' resilience in the face of increasingly violent rainstorms brought on by climate change.

Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt and White House Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi announced the investment, which is being funded through the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure act, at a press conference at the historic Valley Green Inn on Wednesday, May 1. 

"We're really good about responding to emergencies. This is about working in resiliency before something happens," Bhatt said.

“This is really a giant birthday present for us,” said Ruffian Tittmann, executive director of Friends of the Wissahickon, which is celebrating its centennial year. "We're so grateful to see these dollars get spent — to have these bridges restored, maintained and made an asset for generations to come."

The grants, totaling approximately $830 million, are being awarded to projects across the nation. Both the Valley Green Road and Bells Mill Bridges are listed in poor condition on the National Bridge Inventory, which rates the spans that need the most attention.

Zaidi emphasized the reality of climate change, stating, "The changing climate is not an abstraction. It's a lived reality for communities here and all across America, whether it's the fury of floods, or unsustainable precipitation patterns, drought parching the West, or wildfires."

Bhatt emphasized how important this kind of maintenance is for people who regularly use parks like these – something that 8-year-old Maayan Kriger-Corsi happened to be on hand to discuss. 

“Really, when you get right down to it, it always comes down to people – what they need, and what they care about,” he said. 

The Bells Mill Road Bridge, a heavily used artery connecting Chestnut Hill and Roxborough, will be limited to one lane during construction. 

The Valley Green Road Bridge, used heavily by hikers and cyclists and less so by cars, will be open to pedestrians and cyclists but closed to cars during construction. This means that anyone driving to the Inn will need to get there from the Roxborough side of the park via Wise’s Mill Road. 

City officials estimate that the project will take approximately four years, with two years dedicated to design work and two years for construction.

The grant, along with $6.7 million for a flood-prone Pittsburgh interstate, comes amid the 2024 presidential campaign, with Pennsylvania once again a pivotal swing state. Bhatt emphasized the nonpartisan nature of infrastructure, stating, "There are no Republican bridges or Democratic roads."

The Wissahickon projects received a top rating due to the need and importance of the bridges and the Biden administration's policy of committing 40% of infrastructure funds to underserved communities. "This is not just people of means taking a leisurely stroll," Bhatt said. "You can reach it by transit and the park is heavily used by people from the diverse neighborhoods around it."