Bridge to close

At the time of its construction in the 1920’s, the South Street Bridge operated as a surface route for streetcars carrying passengers back and forth between Center City and West Philadelphia.

These days, the bridge enables people to reach Penn and other points in University City from I-76, as well as the Fitler Square and Naval Square neighborhoods on the opposite side of the Schuylkill.

But all of that traffic over the years has taken its toll on the structure, causing chunks of the bridge to break off and fall onto the Expressway, and leading to a January 2007 6-ton limit on vehicles traveling over the bridge, including SEPTA buses and delivery trucks.

Later this fall, that ban will extend to all traffic—car, bicycle and foot—as the bridge undergoes a much-needed $45 million federal-, state- and city-funded reconstruction project. The project is estimated to last for 18 to 24 months and stands to greatly impact Penn and the Health System. The bridge’s closing will eliminate one of the main arteries into University City for prospective students, hospital patients and visitors and commuting faculty and staff.

The bridge is also a main link for students who live off campus. More than 90 percent of University graduate students, for example, do not reside on campus, and more than half of these students reside in Center City.
But Penn, in some ways, has had a dress rehearsal for the bridge’s closing, since the vehicle weight restrictions implemented in early 2007 have forced Penn Transit and delivery trucks bringing supplies to campus to travel alternate routes.

The University is well-prepared for the bridge’s closing and is working to communicate suggested detours and transportation information to anyone who needs to come to campus. All of that information will be made available on a new website (, which will be launched in mid-July by the Division of Public Safety.

The City of Philadelphia has taken steps to create alternate routes to get to the HUP emergency room.

Penn is also weighing the possibility of initiatives to encourage people to opt for public transit when coming to campus. Be sure to check the bridge website for updates.

And if the bridge is shuttered sooner than the fall—the University is prepared for that, too. In that case, authorities will notify Penn three weeks prior to closing.

Anyone who has questions about the South Street Bridge project can send an email to

Originally published July 3, 2008.

Originally published on July 3, 2008