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January 10, 2023

MLK Drive Bridge repairs, to start in February, will close span until 2025

Motorists have not been able to cross it since the COVID-19 pandemic, but cyclists and joggers will need to take detours

Transportation Bridges
MLK Drive Bridge Repairs Source/

The Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Bridge rehabilitation project is expected to start in February. The bridge will be closed to all users until summer 2025.

The rehabilitation project to repair the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Bridge is expected to finally begin in February, resulting in closures for all users until summer 2025.

Two years ago, inspectors found that the steel framing of the bridge was about 75% deteriorated and would require extensive repair work. The start of construction has been delayed by the Streets Department on several occasions since that time. The bridge, which spans the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, connects MLK Drive to Eakins Oval. 

The city shut down MLK Drive, including the bridge, to vehicles for 17 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a car-free destination for cyclists and runners. The city had planned to reopen the entire MLK Drive to motorists until the extent of the bridge deterioration was discovered. Instead, the road only reopened north of Sweetbriar Drive to the Falls Bridge in East Falls; the section containing the MLK Drive Bridge remained closed except to cyclists and pedestrians. 

Once bridge repairs begin and detours have been established, MLK Drive will be closed to all users from the bridge to Sweetbriar Drive. The portion of the Schuylkill River Trail that passes beneath MLK Drive Bridge also will be closed during repairs.  

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia shared a map showing the city's official detour in black and the Bicycle Coalition's recommended detour in red for cyclists that typically rely on MLK Drive to take them to and from Center City.

Detour MLK Drive BridgeCourtesy/Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

The map above shows detours for the upcoming closure of the MLK Drive Bridge.

The Bicycle Coalition recommends cyclists traveling from the Schuylkill River Trail in Center City take the bike path that runs in front of the art museum and beside Kelly Drive. They then should take Sedgley Drive through Lemon Hill Park and bike along the south Girard Avenue sidewalk to Landsdowne Drive. From Landsdowne Drive, they can connect to Sweetbriar Drive and MLK Drive.

By contrast, the city advises people traveling from the Schuylkill River Trail in Center City take Anne d'Harnoncourt Drive around the back of the art museum to Kelly Drive. They can then follow the same path as described above. 

During the closure, delineator posts will be added to the northbound side of Lansdowne Drive, as requested by the Bicycle Coalition. The southbound side of Lansdowne Drive will not have delineator posts.

When the MLK Drive Bridge reopens, it will be wider and more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. The existing 5-foot-wide sidewalk will be doubled and a protective railing will separate people using the path from cars in the westbound lane.

The bridge's westbound lane will be narrowed from 12 feet wide to 10 feet, and the shoulder will be reduced from 4 feet wide to 2 feet. The two eastbound lanes will remain 10 feet wide and a 2-foot-wide shoulder will be added. The bridge's decking also will be replaced, in addition to structural repairs and repainting.

The MLK Drive Bridge opened in 1966 and is 690 feet long.

Chris Puchalsky, director of policy and strategic initiatives for the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability, told the Bicycle Coalition that the city will begin rehabilitation of the Falls Bridge after the MLK Drive Bridge project has been completed. The Falls Bridge crosses over the Schuylkill River to connect MLK Drive and Kelly Drive. It will be closed to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians when the repair project begins.