Underpasses get a facelift in South Side
Over the next couple of years, the underpasses and sidewalks that serve as a connection point between the South Side Slopes and Flats will be undergoing a major reconstruction effort.
According to South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association vice president Joseph Balaban, the SSSNA came to Pittsburgh City Councilman Gene Ricciardi with their idea in February of 2002. After some evaluation and planning time, the first phase was put underway only a few months back.
The main purpose of this redevelopment project is to emphasize public safety. “The sidewalks are either broken or crumbled in many places and in some spots the closest thing to a sidewalk is mud,” said Balaban.
In the case of the underpasses, what little lighting that exists is often dim and distorted by metal rafters. This presents any number of hazards to those who frequently use the underpasses as a walking or jogging route or to drive from one community to another.
The actual project will involve a complete reconstruction of several publicly owned sidewalks near various railroad underpasses within the heart of the South Side. “The full sidewalks and curbs are going to be replaced,” Ricciardi said.
In addition, those underpasses will be equipped with new, more effective lighting systems. This is intended to make the flow of traffic safer and raise the comfort level of pedestrians walking by.
Due to the extensive amount of work that will be required, Pittsburgh City Council has put aside approximately $250,000 dollars to pay for the project. According to Ricciardi, this amount is expected to cover the cost of materials, equipment and manpower.
The actual restructuring of the sidewalks is being conducted by the Pittsburgh Department of Public Works. “This way, it will be cheaper than contracting the work out,” said Balaban. Duquesne Light will be responsible for replacing the lighting systems within the underpasses themselves.
In addition to promoting pedestrian and automobile safety, another goal of this effort is to enhance the aesthetic appeal of several traditionally drab areas that link the South Side Slopes and the Flats.
“There will be no ‘other side of the tracks' type of look anymore,” said Balaban. The improvements are also expected to serve as an inviting gateway to encourage travel through both neighborhoods. “It will make an all around nicer entranceway,” Ricciardi said.
Currently, some renovations have already been made on the 21st Street underpass. And because of heavy traffic, 18th Street was also made a priority. According to Balaban, other underpasses that will be restructured include those along 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 26th and 27th streets. When it comes to the sidewalks, progress is now underway along one side of 22nd Street.
Several steps have been taken in an attempt to avoid problems that may arise for people that frequently drive through these areas. “There are flaggers out to move traffic along where work is in progress,” said Balaban. “Drivers are only experiencing between a 30 and 90 second delay,” added Ricciardi.
In addition, some sidewalks have been closed. But, this only seems to be a minor inconvenience. If the reconstruction along 22nd Street is any indication, one sidewalk should be open at all times. Pedestrians will also still have the option to walk closely along the side of the street as well.
The last time such and extensive redevelopment effort was made is unknown. And, in Ricciardi's opinion, this may actually be the first time any permanent improvements have been made on the sidewalks. “It looks like what is in place now could be the original concrete,” he said.
When all is said and done, the project is expected to be completed in about two years time.