It took more than 20 years of planning before the state Department of Transportation completed the ramps connecting the Fort Duquesne Bridge to Ohio River Boulevard (Route 65) on Pittsburgh’s North Side in the early 1990s.
That long-awaited project may have served motorists well, but it also drove a steel and concrete wedge between the Manchester and Chateau neighborhoods.
Now, the federal Department of Transportation is taking steps to remedy that situation through a $1.4 million planning grant announced Tuesday. The city was approved in the initial round of grants in the new Reconnecting Communities program created under the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
A federal description of the project said the neighborhood dates back to 1843 and in the 20th century became a predominantly minority community. It has “a history of Victorian architecture, productive riverfronts and community organizing that thrived” before the highway ramps were built.
“The highway was built on a viaduct that stands as tall as 40 feet above the surrounding streets, with only two openings for east-west travel between the two neighborhoods,” the projection description said.
Audrey Wells, a spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Gainey, said the city’s planning department, as well as mobility and infrastructure, will work closely with the Manchester Citizens Corp. to develop a proposed remedy. With a contribution from the city, the full planning project is expected to cost $1.8 million.
In recent years, the city has completed development plans for both neighborhoods and created a Transit Revitalization Investment District for the area. Additionally, the area is a focal point for plans by the advocacy group Riverlife for extending the trail system from the West End of the city across the West End Bridge to Manchester, with shops and other amenities under both ends of the bridge.
“This is a planning grant that will serve as the first step,” Wells said, and it likely will involve a feasibility study. “We’re going to try to pinpoint what the preferred alternative is” for reconnecting the neighborhoods.
One possibility would be to lower the roadway to street level, which would allow for the construction of cross streets between the neighborhoods.
Wells said there isn’t a timetable for completing that study, but when it is done the city likely would apply to the same program for a construction grant.
Manchester Citizens Corp. couldn’t be reached for comment.
In a news release announcing the grant, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said the grant “will bring Pittsburgh one step closer to righting historical wrongs and connecting residents to more economic opportunities.”
“The North Side is a vibrant and historic section of Pittsburgh, but neighborhoods like Manchester have suffered from harmful infrastructure decisions that divided and isolated the community,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Summer Lee said the project will help to “make life easier for working families.”
“Black, brown and working-class communities in Pittsburgh have suffered from the legacy of redlining and disinvestment that’s left folks in our North Side neighborhood isolated for far too long,” Lee said. “I was sent to Congress to right wrongs like this one because our economic future depends on us building a Pittsburgh that’s livable, safe and accessible for all people.”
Across the country, the program awarded funding to 45 projects worth $185 million.
Overall, $1 billion will be available over five years for planning and implementation.
Two other Pittsburgh-area projects submitted applications but didn’t receive funding in the first round. Sharpsburg had requested $5 million in construction funds to help with its ongoing project to redevelop property along the Allegheny River, and Etna had asked for $121,000 in a planning grant to reconnect neighborhoods in the borough.