Pittsburgh officials are close to finalizing the design for the Charles Anderson Bridge, which carries Boulevard of the Allies over Schenley Park, and connects Oakland to Squirrel Hill; construction is slated to begin in 2024. While that’s two years ahead of schedule, city officials and community members alike acknowledged at a meeting Wednesday night it still feels like a long time off.
Work on a plan for the Charles Anderson began in 2019.
The span is historic, which complicates things; Pittsburgh is receiving state and federal money, which adds additional burdens; and it runs over a park, which has its own quirks. Zachary Workman is the project lead for the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, and he explained rehabilitating the Charles Anderson means working through the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which can be quite a lengthy process.
“There’s a lot of considerations that go into making sure the project is really considering all those who are impacted, both the neighborhoods and the environment around it,” he said.
Still, the city was able to shift the anticipated 2026 construction date, which led to a question of whether there was any room to expedite it further.
The limiting factor is usually federal funding, said Kim Lucas, who leads the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. But in the last few years, Pittsburgh has “received more federal funding for our bridge projects than probably ever in the history of the city,” Lucas said.
“That funding is usually budgeted out to future years, and if you need to move it up, there are tradeoffs.”
Working with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (the regional planning organization), PennDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration, Pittsburgh was able to make tradeoffs, but the implication was there aren’t more to be made. Lucas also noted physical realities, such as rehabilitating old steel, limit speed.
Though the city’s design for the bridge is constrained by its historic designation, officials say they will be able to add a bike lane, while also keeping both sidewalks.
While the bridge has been closed to cars since this winter, it remained open to pedestrians and cyclists. Once construction starts, those users will also be detoured to other routes.
Another meeting with an updated design is expected later in the summer, and construction is expected to conclude in 2025.
In addition to talking about the Charles Anderson Bridge, city officials also provided a brief update on other affected bridges: the Panther Hollow Overpass and the Swinburne Bridge. Work on the former will begin during the work on Charles Anderson, and the latter will begin after (Swinburne currently serves as a detour for the Charles Anderson).
Stakeholders from Oakland, Squirrel Hill, and Greenfield voiced numerous concerns about communication around and plans for Swinburne, and repeatedly asked city officials to reopen comments on the project and to commit to more meetings. They agreed to both of those requests.
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