Route 28 plan called intrusive by some
By Joe Grata,
Thursday, June 17, 2004
A number of Pittsburgh groups, including the Riverlife Task Force, have suggested that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and its consultant go back to the drawing board with alternatives for rebuilding Route 28.
They suggested that a new PennDOT “hybrid” plan, with six miles of retaining walls 40 to 60 feet high along a two-mile stretch between the North Side and Millvale, would gouge the hillside and fly in the face of efforts to preserve and enhance Pittsburgh’s famous river corridors.
The hybrid grew out of recommendations made a year ago, and thought to have been embraced by PennDOT, to minimize the walls, save historic St. Nicholas Church and homes atop Troy Hill, and create a less intrusive urban boulevard that would still provide for a nonstop flow of traffic on Route 28.
But many of 120 people who turned out for an open house at the Washington’s Landing at Herrs Island boathouse yesterday expressed disappointment with the new proposal.
“We really thought a design would be presented to accomplish goals that I thought we agreed to,” said Ted McConnell, chairman of the Riverlife Task Force Transportation Committee.
The task force has sent a protest to state Transportation Secretary Allen D. Biehler.
“What’s bad is that they still have monstrous retaining walls,” said George White, speaking for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. He accused PennDOT of pussyfooting about acquiring the railroad land below Route 28 at the expense of digging into the hillside next to the roadway.
“We still haven’t recovered from scars on the landscape” when PennDOT carved Route 28 into the bottom of high hills farther up the Allegheny Valley, said Terry Wirginis, president of the Gateway Clipper Fleet that operates cruises on the three rivers.
As a resident of Indiana Township, Wirginis said, he would have no problem commuting on a new Route 28 with a 35 mph speed limit instead of the 45 mph limit that is part of PennDOT’s proposal.
PennDOT revealed last week that it had narrowed an original 11 alternatives for rebuilding the congested stretch of Route 28 to three options, including a new one known as “Alternative 6M.”
That option, expected to cost an estimated $180 million, includes an urban-type of boulevard with curbs and sidewalks at the North Side/East Ohio Street end — a feature that has seemed to generate little opposition in two meetings held thus far.
It’s the other end, starting just east of St. Nicholas Church, that has drawn the criticism. PennDOT proposes higher speeds, limited-access features with 10-foot-wide shoulders and wider ramps. While those may be safer, they also require more horizontal space, and therefore multiple retaining walls, from the 31st Street Bridge to the 40th Street Bridge.
For example, a profile of PennDOT’s plan shows four “thru” lanes, two ramps, barriers and all shoulders would take up 136 feet of horizontal space compared with 92 feet in the Riverlife Task Force’s plan, which was prepared by an independent consulting engineer versed in urban highway design.
The task force plan also proposes several “steps” or much lower walls where trees and shrubs would be planted, as well as landscaped plazas at the two bridges and Rialto Street, where all local traffic would intersect.
Lisa Schroeder said the task force does not want to delay PennDOT’s timetable, which calls for starting four years of construction in fall 2008.
“Early community consensus can help move it through the federal approval process,” she said. “We also think using our proposal around the most critical point [the 31st Street Bridge] will save time and money.”
PennDOT design development engineer Todd Kravits said he and the state’s consultant, Michael Baker Inc., which has been paid about $10 million so far, thought the changes made in Alternative 6M would satisfy diverse public and private interests while maintaining consistency with the rest of Route 28.
Kravits said the department would be happy to meet again with the Riverlife Task Force but said the group should be more specific and provide more information about its demands.
A third and final open house will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday on the 31st floor of the Regional Enterprise Tower, Downtown. Formal public hearings are to be held in the fall.