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Penn Street Historic Bridge Rehabilitation

Beautifully restored and upgraded structure spurs revitalization in downtown Reading.
  • Concrete arch Penn Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River lit up at night - Gannett Fleming.

    Thoughtful design and dramatic new lighting rehabilitated an iconic gateway to downtown Reading.

  • Aerial view of river bridge under construction showing temporary earthen causeway built alongside - Gannett Fleming.

    A large temporary causeway built in the river enhanced access to the bridge on the constrained site.

  • View of bridge showing rebar framework installed to support new construction - Gannett Fleming.

    A complicated staging sequence kept traffic flowing across the bridge during construction.

  • View of the bridge’s four-lane roadway illuminated by new electric lighting standards - Gannett Fleming.

    Modern lighting replaces an outdated system, clearly illuminating four traffic lanes and a sidewalk.

  • The finished bridge sports a uniform off-white color created by a two-part coating - Gannett Fleming.

    The bridge’s coating system provides a uniform appearance in a color chosen by stakeholder consensus.

  • Close-up view of the rebuilt reticulated balustrades along the side of the Penn Street Bridge - Gannett Fleming.

    Balustrade reconstruction helped restore the historic appearance of the 100-year-old structure.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, District 5-0

Reading, Pennsylvania

Our Role

1,337 ft.
Construction Cost
$43.2 million
  • Preserved and restored nationally registered historic bridge
  • Enhanced safety and mobility for 22,000 daily commuters
  • Increased service life for an iconic concrete arch structure
  • Distinctive city gateway inspires downtown revitalization.

The historic rehabilitation of the Penn Street Bridge in Reading, Pennsylvania, transformed a deteriorating structure into what the local media called an “impressive gateway to the city.” Guided by community input and Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, a design team led by Gannett Fleming retained the iconic appearance of the 100-year-old concrete arch bridge while enhancing its structural integrity, extending its service life, and improving safety for motorists and pedestrians. A key part of the project was new LED lighting to illuminate the roadway and sidewalk as well as the open-spandrel arches that support the structure. Besides enhancing safety, the lighting systems create a dramatic visual effect at night without compromising the bridge’s historical character.

Because the bridge is a vital link between Route 422 and downtown Reading serving 22,000 daily commuters, designers carefully staged the project to maintain both vehicular and pedestrian traffic during the entire construction process. They also maintained existing fiber optic utilities supported by the bridge throughout construction to prevent the disruption of critical communication services.

What We Did

Innovative design and leading-edge materials enabled the on-time rehabilitation of the bridge, which spans the Schuylkill River, a railroad, city street, college campus, walking trail, and utility access road. The creation of a 31,000-square-foot causeway in the river allowed heavy equipment to access the open-spandrel spans from below without impeding vehicular traffic above. Lightweight cellular concrete was used to facilitate drainage while supplying strong support during construction and a solid foundation for the finished bridge.

The reconstruction of reticulated balustrades and outlooks, closed for 60 years because of deterioration, restored the bridge’s historic appearance. A combination of precast and cast-in-place concrete elements accommodated modern lighting systems and ensured that the complex balustrade geometry was constructed to today’s highest standards. An innovative, two-part, breathable, polymer-modified, cementitious base coat and breathable acrylic topcoat provide long-lasting concrete protection and a uniform appearance to the rehabilitated structure.

Key Features

  • Traffic control plan preserved regional mobility during bridge rehabilitation.
  • Temporary supports carried fiber optic utilities across bridge throughout construction to avoid communication service interruption.
  • Drainage system with full-width moment slabs and traditional inlets prevents water from collecting on the structure.
  • Additional deck-reinforcing steel resists thermal effects to ensure long-term structural integrity.
  • Crashworthy barrier along roadway curb protects a 7-foot-wide sidewalk, enhancing pedestrian safety.
  • Cross section adjustment slows traffic entering the city and can accommodate future bike lanes.
  • Outreach campaign strengthened public support for the project and publicized the accessibility of downtown businesses.

Awards & Recognition

  • Ralph Modjeski Award for Excellence in Transportation Design, Preservation, and Archeology, 2020, Preservation Pennsylvania

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