A project to reconnect Pittsburgh’s Hill District to downtown is well underway about a year before its projected completion. The I-579 Cap Urban Connector Project will bridge the neighborhoods with a three acre park atop the existing highways.
The project, an undertaking by the City of Pittsburgh, the Sports and Exhibition Authority, PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, will include structures and art that celebrate the Hill District and its residents. In the 1960s, the predominantly Black community was forced out of the Lower Hill due to the construction of the Civic Arena.
The space will include “story walls” celebrating the life of abolitionist and journalist Martin Delany and longtime activist Frankie Pace; a colored rendering on the sidewalks of the Sankofa bird, a mythical creature in African culture; and an outdoor classroom garden.
Construction has been progressing well, according to PennDOT District 11 executive Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, despite a brief interruption due to the coronavirus shutdown.
“We did stop work,” she said. “But [shortly afterward] started up again because it has so many implications to traffic and travel.”
The shutdown and subsequent decline in commuter traffic and cancellation of sports and concerts around downtown actually ended up benefiting the construction project, Moon-Sirianni said. Limited space, she added, has been the biggest challenge.
“It’s a really tight space and the drillers actually had to work sometimes in the day. And the other crews had to come in at night because there just wasn't enough space for them all to have their trucks and their laborers and their operators all in that little space at the same time,” she said.
Moon-Sirianni said in her 34 years working with PennDOT, she’s never built a park on top of a bridge. The projected $32 million development will also include pedestrian and bicycle paths, rain gardens for storm-water management and an amphitheater.
Crews recently finished placing the supporting beams that will become the bridge.
“So when you used to drive down the interstate, you could look up to see the sky,” Moon-Sirianni said. “Now, when you look up, you see 126 beams, beams creating this bridge.”
The cap project is expected to be completed in November 2021.