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September 05, 2023

Potential designs emerge for the Chinatown Stitch project above Vine Street Expressway

The intention is to build a cap over a portion of I-676 east of Broad Street, creating usable space and reconnecting the neighborhood severed by the roadway

Development Nieghborhoods
Chinatown Vine Street Expressway StreetView/Google Maps

The city released potential designs on for the Chinatown Stitch, a project that would construct a cap above the Vine Street Expressway. The highway split Chinatown in two when it was built in the 1960s. The cap would also create new space in the densely packed neighborhood.

The city released three potential designs on Tuesday for the Chinatown Stitch, a project to construct a cap above the Vine Street Expressway with the intention of bridging the physical barrier that split Chinatown in two when the highway was built in the 1960s.

The cap would also create new space in the densely packed neighborhood that could be used for parks or other amenities. Philadelphia's Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. kicked off the project back in March.

When it was constructed about 60 years ago, the 1 3/4-mile stretch of Interstate 676 cut a trench through Chinatown between Ninth and 12th streets. Residents have long complained that the highway makes the neighborhood feel less integrated, is a safety hazard and limits opportunities for development.

The three designs that have emerged are, in part, based on a survey the city and PCDC circulated in the spring, gathering input about what about priorities for the project should be. More than 2,300 people responded, including about a third of the respondents who used the Chinese language version of the survey. 

The drawings from the city include one option to build the cap over two blocks of I-676 and two more that propose capping three blocks. The two-block plan would cover the highway between 10th and 11th streets, as well as between 12th and 13th streets. The stretch of the Vine Street Expressway between 11th and 12th streets would be partially covered.

The first three-block cap plan would cover the highway from 10th Street to 13th Street. The second would cover the same portion of I-676, but the westbound lanes of Vine Street would be moved onto the cap. Where the westbound lanes of Vine are presently would be incorporated into the cap's newly created space.

All three designs would potentially connect the new green space to the existing Rail Park and include the removal of the sound barriers that line the perimeter of Vine Street today.

The results of the survey showed strong support among residents for the creation of a park on the cap. People also expressed support for improving street safety around the Vine Street Expressway area and mixed-use development projects.

"Chinatown is excited and hopeful that the next generation will live and work in a neighborhood where the expressway no longer poses a physical and mental barrier to the growth of our community,” PCDC executive director John Chin said.

The $4 million planning phase of Chinatown Stitch is funded by a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $2.2 million from the city, PennDOT, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and private donors.

Chinatown leaders have discussed plans to cap the Vine Street Expressway for nearly 20 years. Although such projects are complex from an engineering and traffic standpoint, the city has shown more interest recently. Construction began earlier this year on the 1 1/2-acre park that will cap I-95 at Penn's Landing, between Chestnut and Walnut streets.

Chinatown Stitch progresses as the Philadelphia 76ers' move ahead with their plan to construct a new arena on East Market Street, which would back up to the south end of Chinatown.

There several more years of community meetings and planning ahead before city officials envision construction on the cap beginning in 2028.

For now, the city is circulating a second survey (follow this link for the simplified Chinese version) to get feedback on the three proposed designs released Tuesday.  The next public workshop to discuss the Chinatown Stitch will be held Monday, Sept. 18, from 6-8 p.m. at the Chinese Christian Church and Center.