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As a result of a city initiative designed to improve the area along the Schuylkill River, walkers and joggers can now travel the length of the river from Locust Street to the Fairmount Water Works near the Philadephia Museum of Art.

The Philadelphia Department of Streets is in the process of completing its involvement in the Schuylkill Park Project, a venture that is intended to improve the Fairmount Park property along the Schuylkill River.

The project, which includes a paved pathway linking University City with Fairmount Park, is being funded by $8.7 million of federal appropriations, which the city received slightly more than 10 years ago.

Originally, the project was championed by the Schuylkill River Development Council, a nonprofit organization that aims to "reunite the river into the fabric of the city and to increase public access to the river," according to Louise Turan, executive director of SRDC.

The recent construction is part of what is internally being called phase two. Phase two includes the asphalt trail, lighting, fencing and access ramps, which have been added to several streets near the Amtrak 30th Street Station.

"Certainly, the public at large is overjoyed," Turan said, adding, however, that some citizens are still pushing for "at-grade" crossings, which would make it possible to cross parts of the railroad-owned land at ground level, thus providing easier access to the path and the river.

The path is centered between the river to the west and the railroad tracks to the east, making it only accessible by ramp or stairs from the street bridges that span the length of the river.

The addition of at-grade crossings is a measure which the SRDC fully supports, Turan said, but the railroad has blocked the building of these crossings.

Work began on the project in 1997, according to Assistant Engineering Manager for the Streets Department Thomas Branigan, who is the project manager of design.

Phase one involved the creation of a new bulkhead -- funded by a $5 million grant -- which is the wall that limits the banks of the river, Branigan said.

In terms of the recent construction, "there is not much left to do," he said, adding that his department's involvement is expected to be complete by May or June of this year.

According to Turan, the last layer of asphalt will be paved as soon as the weather is warmer.

Minimal landscaping is also part of the effort under the Streets Department, although the next stage of development is set to be turned over to the Department of Commerce for finishing.

"This is definitely a multi-phased project," Branigan added. "It is not going to end with what you see today."

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