By Carl Rotenberg
WEST NORRITON >> The ribbon cutting for the pedestrian Sullivan’s Bridge over the Schuylkill River in Valley Forge National Historical Park Friday marked the first trail connection between the Schuylkill River Trail and the Chester Valley Trail.
Hundreds of bicyclists joined federal, state and local officials to celebrate the opening of the 14-foot wide, 603-foot long pedestrian bridge that is located just upstream from the Route 422 bridge in West Norriton and Upper Merion. Major Gen. John Sullivan, portrayed by Bill Troppman of Parkside, Delaware County, cut the ribbon with his ceremonial sword.
The bridge was named for Sullivan after a contest because the Revolutionary War general built a wooden bridge across the Schuylkill River during the 1777-1778 Valley Forge winter encampment of the Continental Army.
The $9,271,458, pedestrian bridge replaces the old Betzwood Bridge, nicknamed the “Singing Bridge,” which closed in 1993 and was removed in 1995. Bicyclists were relegated to a 4-foot-wide boardwalk path bolted to the west side of the Route 422 bridge starting in 1994.
Bicyclist Bill Sabel of Plymouth said the new bridge will allow him to ride to work in Berwyn off the Chester Valley Trail.
“I hate the Route 422 gauntlet,” Sabel said. “It got so bad I haven’t crossed the river in years.”
Bicyclist Don Henry of Lower Providence said the boardwalk was “horrible on a road bike.”
“I work in Exton and I would use the boardwalk a couple times a week,” Henry said. “It wasn’t good.”
The superlatives for the new bridge from the official speakers included “tremendous asset,” “fantastic,” “the dawning of a new era,” “perfect addition” and “stunning.”
State Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards said the bridge was “the perfect addition to this historic park.”
“It establishes a new, multi-use trail connection between the Schuylkill River Trail and Valley Forge Park, further connects the circuit trails between Montgomery and Chester counties,” Richards said. “Last year the Cynwyd Trail Bridge in Manayunk was opened connecting the Schuylkill River Trail over the river to Lower Merion. In design or under construction are three other trail bridges over the Schuylkill River making trail connections in Norristown, Phoenixville and Pottstown.”
Valley Forge park Superintendent Kate Hammond said park officials were “so proud in our Centennial week to open Sullivan’s Bridge. General Sullivan is here with us today. He constructed a wooden bridge to unite both sides of the Valley Forge encampment.”
Hammond, and other speakers, praised the “bipartisan federal and state partnership” that dealt with asbestos contaminated soil and other project issues.
State Sen. John Rafferty, R-44, said former park Superintendent Michael Caldwell, former state Sen. Connie Williams, D-17, and U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., all collaborated together to get the bridge built.
“It was a joint effort,” Rafferty said, “and we got this done.”
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-13, said he took great pride in voting, as a state representative, for the Act 89 transportation bill that will help finance the reconstruction of the Route 422 bridge over the Schuylkill River. Work on that project has already started and it was visible to the first bike riders over Sullivan’s Bridge.
“This is remarkable land we are standing on,” Boyle said. “This park is a living tribute to what those soldiers suffered. The park is truly a treasure.”
State Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150, said the bridge represented nearly three decades of county, state and federal officials “pulling together” to push the construction project forward.
State Rep. Warren Kampf, R-157, praised Rafferty for spearheading the legislative efforts to get Act 89 passed.
Montgomery County commissioners’ Vice Chairwoman Val Arkoosh called the bridge “a critical connection” for the 91 miles of recreational trails in Montgomery County.
“We are making progress every day,” Arkoosh said. “I wish I was here with my bike. I can’t wait for next year’s Bike to Work Day so I can ride across the bridge.”
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale said the bridge was “much safer and nicer” than the boardwalk crossing.
“I’m excited for what we have accomplished,” Gale said, “and I look forward to biking across the bridge.”
Don Naimoli, the president of the Valley Forge Park Alliance, called the bridge “a tremendous asset” that linked the 26 miles of trails within the park.
“At the beginning of this project,” Naimoli said, “I had hair. I don’t now.”
Upper Merion Supervisor Greg Waks called the new bridge “fantastic.”
“It is great for Upper Merion residents who bike or run,” Waks said. “I can easily do 100 miles a week on my bike and more in the summer.”
Lower Providence supervisors’ Chairman Jason Sorgini said, “Anytime we see infrastructure it’s really the dawning of a new era. The infrastructure has not kept up with growth in the area.”