Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Work to start on switchback ramp

Smithfield Street Bridge, Mon Wharf to link

- By Ed Blazina

As Jay Sukernek looked down the trail that cuts through the Monongahel­a River wharf Downtown, just two people were sitting along the riverbank, enjoying a sunny Friday. There were no pedestrian­s and no bicyclists.

“This is a really isolated area now,” said Mr. Sukernek, vice president and chief financial officer of Riverlife, the nonprofit agency charged with improving Pittsburgh’s riverfront­s. “If you come down here next year, two years from now, it will be completely different.”

After a four-year series of starts and stops, a contract has been awarded and constructi­on will begin soon on a switchback ramp from the Smithfield Street Bridge to the wharf. That ramp, combined with a state project to provide a better connection to Point State Park, will change the path from what has been called a “trail to nowhere” to a key part of the Great Allegheny Passage.

“This is the missing link that makes the Downtown trail system a complete system,” Mr. Sukernek

said. “We think it will unlock a lot of the recreation­al potential here.

“This will make the Mon Wharf function very much like the Allegheny River,” referring to the trail along the North Shore that often is crowded with walkers, runners, bicyclists and anglers.

Riverlife awarded the contract to Clearwater Constructi­on of Mercer after cobbling together $3.2 million through a variety of grants and redesignin­g the project to reduce its initial cost. The ramp will be 12 feet wide and drop to the east on the upstream side of the bridge for about 225 feet, then make a turn before heading west for another 450 feet, passing beneath the bridge before reaching the wharf.

When the ramp is finished later this year or early next year, people using the Eliza Furnace Trail along Second Avenue or the Three Rivers Heritage Trail from the South Side will be able to go directly from the Downtown end of the Smithfield Street Bridge to the wharf. Now, they either have to follow busy Fort Pitt Boulevard or walk down stairs to the wharf to connect with the trail to get to Point State Park.

Trail advocates couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a major gap in the trail,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh. “There’s currently no safe way to connect from the end of the Eliza Furnace Trail to the Point, which is where everybody wants to end up. This is a wonderful connection.”

Bryan Perry, executive director of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, said the switchback should provide much greater use of the wharf trail, which he called “beautiful and scenic.”

“It will be a wonderful link for riders and walkers,” he said. “The Great Allegheny Passage [a systemn of trails that links Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Md.] has a great number of people who come here from out of town. This will avoid a little bit of confusion for them as they head for the Point.”

Riverlife put together the project by working with what Mr. Sukernek called “an alphabet soup” of agencies that operate in the area. The Pennsylvan­ia Department of Transporta­tion is responsibl­e for Interstate 376 that runs above and beside the wharf; the state Department of Conservati­on and Natural Resources handles Point State Park; the Pittsburgh Parking Authority is in charge of the wharf; and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority has a major trunk line under the wharf.

Clearwater crews have removed vegetation on the upriver side of the wharf and will set four columns into the ground to support the ramp.

The area between the ramp and the I-376 wall will be planted with native trees.

As part of the project, Mr. Sukernek said, Riverlife and the state have reached an agreement for park equipment to be used to clear debris from the wharf trail when it floods. The city’s Department of Public Works has handled that in the past.

The state has a companion, $1.8 million project to improve the trail’s Point connection, which currently is a narrow walkway and ramp separated from the highway by a concrete barrier. A Department of Conservati­on and Natural Resources spokeswoma­n said Friday that the project is in its final design phase.

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