Penn Street Bridge

Penn Street Historic Bridge Rehabilitation

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

  • Diamond Award, 2021, American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Pennsylvania, Engineering Excellence Awards.
  • #5 Bridge, 2020, Roads & Bridges, Top 10 Bridges.
  • Ralph Modjeski Award for Excellence in Transportation Design, 2020, Preservation Pennsylvania, Historic Preservation Awards.
  • Project of the Year Greater than $20 Million, 2020, American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE) East Penn Section.

Outcomes

  • 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.

CLIENT

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, District 5-0

LOCATION

Reading, Pa.

ROLE

Design

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