Below a tangle of highways along the southern edge of Pittsburgh’s downtown is a truncated section of concrete. The Mon Wharf Landing may look as if it goes nowhere, some sort of multi-modal experiment that was never completed.
Riverlife recently broke ground on a new switchback ramp that will connect the deck of the Smithfield Street Bridge down to the trail along the north bank of Monongahela River. The connection will provide a long-awaited link to the Three Rivers Heritage trail system, as well as the Great Allegheny Passage.
“We were ahead of our time [when we build the Mon Wharf Landing park],” said Jay Sukernek, vice president and CFO of Riverlife, a nonprofit that seeks to reimagine the city’s riverfronts. “Riverlife did [the Mon Wharf Landing park] 10 years ago. And there were no connections at the time.”
The Great Allegheny Passage runs for 335 miles from Washington, D.C., through southwestern Pennsylvania, and into Pittsburgh. The trail is car-free until the very last mile, where it drops travelers into downtown Pittsburgh. There, crisscrossing highways stand between bikers and pedestrians and trail’s end at Point State Park.
Sukernek explains that the ADA accessible switchback ramp will route people away from traffic and down to the riverfront. The project will make it easier to get around, said Sukernek.
“This isn’t just a small, little ramp. This is a major connection that really has been missing in the Pittsburgh riverfront trail system for a number of years,” he said.
He sees the connection as a catalyst for more activity, as well as a place to be enjoyed.
“What kid isn’t going love to sit down here? You can watch the incline go up and down, you can watch boats go by, you can watch a train go by.”
Riverlife has been working on the project for nearly a decade. That’s for two reasons. The first is logistics: the ramp runs from a historic bridge down to a floodplain under a highway where people park their cars.
The second is the sheer number of partners involved, said Sukernek, before naming more than 10 agencies and organizations that included the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Protection, the city of Pittsburgh and its the Department of Public Works, the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, Allegheny Regional Asset District, PennDOT, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“I probably shouldn’t name names because I’m forgetting somebody who’s in it,” said Sukernek. “A lot of really, really good human beings ... who have found solutions to every road block that we’ve come across in this.”
The $3.2 million project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.