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Lighting Up Philadelphia: Beautifying communities and enhancing infrastructure

January 06, 2021 09:00 AM
By: Robyn Briggs

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​Steel, concrete, stone and asphalt are materials one might use to describe highway infrastructure. How about artistic expression? Through a partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, District 6 has helped beautify various communities with artwork while also enhancing its infrastructure.

During a year that has brought great challenges and darkness for many dealing with COVID, District 6's highway lighting maintenance team was "literally" a source of light for the latest mural it was involved with, Electric Philadelphia, which was completed in fall 2020 at the 6th Street underpass at Interstate 676.

Rex Alfes, transportation construction inspector supervisor for District 6's highway lighting team, said PennDOT not only partnered and allowed right of entry for the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, but installed the power circuit and necessary hardware to supply electricity for the mural's lighted artwork. Alfes said this required a significant effort by the highway lighting team through design, review and execution by the contractor. 

"Our crews deal with maintaining and installing lighting on all major state roadways in the Philadelphia region, so they were very excited to work on a creative project and contribute to the mural arts mission and program," said Alfes. "This is very unique for us and was a morale booster."

Alfes also noted that besides providing the electricity to the artwork, his team also installed walkway lighting along 6th street between Wood Street and the I-676 overpass to provide more visibility and safety for pedestrians.

Mural Arts Philadelphia has transformed public places for over 35 years. According to Lindsey Rosenberg, Mural Arts Program project manager, the artwork is Philadelphia's largest lighted mural display to-date. Rosenberg noted that the location at the 6th Street underpass makes it a great focal point for motorists coming off the Vine Street Expressway at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. "It's picking up a lot of buzz in the city," she said. Rosenberg added it is a nice addition at a time when Philadelphia needs a "little light shined on it".

The lighted mural was created and designed by artist David Guinn, and lighting within the artwork was installed by Drew Billiau. Guinn said bringing the artwork together with the lighting made sense to brighten up a darker space within an underpass.

"The lighting in the 6th Street underpass is exciting and creates a gateway between the historic district and a modern Philadelphia," said Guinn. He hopes it creates a sense of excitement for people traveling southbound entering the historic district or encourages people to explore the Northern Liberties neighborhood heading northbound.

PennDOT was initially contacted about this project by Mural Arts Philadelphia back in December 2018. Din Abazi, civil engineer manger in District 6's Bridge Unit and mural arts Philadelphia liaison for the district, said once a request comes in for a mural project, it goes through several procedures and departments before it can be approved.

"Many times, the murals are an expression of civic pride for the local community," said Abazi. He noted his role is usually making sure the request will not be blocking or limiting the public's safety on state highways. Most of the time the project just requires right of entry of PennDOT's underpasses or abatements, but this time the project involved the departments direct involvement to provide the lighting source.

Philly Mural
Rendition of future Mural Arts Philadelphia Project
Now that this mural is complete, Abazi said he is currently coordinating the right of entry approval for a new Mural Arts Philadelphia project in the 21st Street underpass at John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

Mural and Photography Credit:

Electric Philadelphia © 2020 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Drew Billiau & David Guinn, 6th and Wood Streets. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Sponsors: Visit Philadelphia, AP Construction, City of Philadelphia

Partners: PennDOT, Franklin Square/Historic Philadelphia, Inc.

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