Normally, playing on a highway is a bad idea, but a project to physically reconnect Pittsburgh’s Hill District to Downtown will soon install a walkable, bikeable park overtop the I-579 / Crosstown Boulevard Corridor.
The Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority is spearheading the I-579 “Cap” Urban Connector Project. It will erase a significant barrier in the city, said executive director Mary Conturo.
“It creates a park where there’s right now a hole in the ground, basically,” she said. “The connection between the two areas will be improved, which should be a benefit to both town and the Hill District.”
The three acres of park and public space will stretch over the highway on a raised platform and include art and performance spaces, as well as stormwater management infrastructure.
The cap also provides a means of restoring a physical—and psychological—connection between the Hill District and Downtown, something that hasn’t existed since the mid-20th century. In the 1950s, widespread demolition scarred the Hill District, displacing 8,000 people and more than 400 businesses. A few years later, the construction of I-579 / Crosstown Boulevard sliced through Downtown and isolated the Hill.
“It has been a long time coming, and we are anxious to get it started,” said Conturo.
While the project is in its final design phase, it still needs to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration, PennDOT, Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission and City Council. Those are expected by late summer. After that, construction work will be bid out by the city as early as this fall, and take two years to build.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority voted last week to approve up to $75,000 toward the $26.4 million project. A Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant awarded to the project in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Transportation provided $19 million. A mix of state, local and foundation funding made up the remainder of the money.