Fort Pitt Bridge ramps to Fort Pitt Blvd, c. 1960
Aerial photo map
Detail photos 2001:
-- Fort Pitt Bridge ramps - Stanwix St
-- Stanwix St span - Market St span
-- Wood St span - Mon Wharf ramp
-- Smithfield St span
-- Wood St ramp to Parkway eastbound
-- Smithfield St - Grant St
-- Historical pictures of the Monongahela Wharf
Pylon at west end of Fort Pitt Blvd;|
Bearing supporting haunched girder;
Restored thistle railing;
200 block of Fort Pitt Blvd
View east (Post-Gazette)
Fort Pitt Blvd
USGS 7.5" Topo Quad - UTM Coordinates:
Pittsburgh West - Zone 17; 0584 4476
Fort Pitt Blvd
[elevated eastbound lanes, with intersections at Stanwix St, Market St, Smithfield St and Grant St]
-- Commonwealth Pl
-- Grant St
-- Penn Lincoln Parkway [I-376, US22, US30]; Monongahela Wharf
TYPE OF CONSTRUCTION / DESIGN:
steel riveted haunched girder on reinforced concrete columns and bents
simple spans and suspended spans alternate on viaduct
LENGTH OF MAIN SPAN:
viaduct spans: 40 ft est.
spans connecting east and westbound lanes: 70 ft
TOTAL LENGTH (including longest elevated ramp):
HEIGHT OF DECK:
YEAR ERECTED / ENGINEER:
1940, County of Allegheny
2002, completely rebuilt, PennDOT
The area paralleling the Monongahela River along Water St had always been an open space -- a sloping embankment used as a wharf for docking packet boats and steamers. As the era of the automobile arrived, the area was overtaken by parked cars.
The widening of Water St, completed in 1940, created a two-level system of roadways and ramps intended to provide a bypass for through traffic between the Point and Smithfield St. Connections to Grant St were impeded by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad passenger terminal at Water St and Smithfield St. The B&O facilities were eventually reconfigured into a much smaller area east of Grant St. The plan also tried to anticipate a future connection to the proposed Pitt Parkway to the east. This parkway -- now named the Penn Lincoln Parkway -- would finally reach downtown in 1956 with connections to Grant St opening in 1958.
The three westbound lanes of Fort Pitt Blvd are essentially the whole of the original Water St, although the earlier road surface was limestone block pavers. One lane is used for metered parking except during the evening rush hour.
The sloping embankment was cut away and a concrete retaining wall was built to support these lanes. Adjacent to the south -- toward the Monongahela River -- a river-level set of three lanes were built to carry traffic without interference from the intersecting city streets above. These lanes also had entrances to the Monongahela Wharf parking area. Although these lanes are now used as the westbound lanes of the Parkway East, curbs cuts and pavement joints still show the locations of the old parking lot entrances -- essentially below each of the short bridges (70-foot spans) which connect the westbound and elevated eastbound lanes of Fort Pitt Blvd -- Stanwix St, Market St, Wood St and Smithfield St. The present entrance and exit for the Mon Wharf parking lot uses a ramp which has an unusual "drive-on-the-left" configuration. It descends from Wood St. The bottom of the ramp was shortened about 40 ft when the Parkway was built -- allowing for the westbound exit to Stanwix St.
Closer to the river, thirty-six short spans carry three lanes of eastbound Fort Pitt Blvd on a viaduct stretching between the approach ramps from the Fort Pitt Bridge to the Smithfield St Bridge. The transition of the roadway geometry is evident where the multiple sets of lanes of Fort Pitt Blvd once aligned with the original Water St ramps from the Point and Manchester Bridges. The decorative thistle pattern of the 1940 railings gives way to the utilitarian simplicity of the 1958 aluminum and concrete.
Beyond Smithfield St to the east, the viaduct continues in an altered form -- with the eastbound lanes curving to meet a complicated intersection with Grant St. Although the trolley tracks are still visible in the pavement, the changes required to mesh with the Parkway East are evident. The girders in this section are similar to those used for the elevated eastbound lanes of the Parkway which indicates they were erected after the 1940 portion. The older girders are haunched (curved lower flange); these are straight. But the decorative thistle railing was installed here to match the earlier design.
Another strip was left open between the eastbound lanes and the river's edge. The space was filled in 1956 by the eastbound lanes of the Parkway East. The concrete bents and short spans provide a comparison of the changes in design and technology in the 16 years. Docking rings which were built into some of the columns were also added to the columns supporting the Parkway. For many years the Gateway Clipper Fleet, offering river tours, was headquartered on the Wharf. Although the Clipper has moved across river to Station Square, a new generation of steamboats such as the Mississippi Queen and the Delta Queen dock at the Mon Wharf several times through the summer.
Below the elevated lanes, the Monongahela Wharf is primarily known as a parking lot. Although the viaducts provide shelter from the rain and snow, the sorely deteriorating condition of the 1940 concrete unfortunately creates hazards of its own. The elevated lanes of Fort Pitt Blvd are posted with an 8 ton weight limit. They were previously used as the primary connection from downtown streets and the Fort Duquesne Bridge for traffic heading to the Parkway East. Until a redesign and reconstruction of the ramps is completed (begun 2002), traffic is detoured along the Blvd of the Allies, two blocks into town.
Another potential hazard on the Wharf is flooding. The flood stage here is 18 feet and several times each year the parking area is closed. A series of flood walls about four feet in height were constructed along the westbound lanes of the Parkway and pumps may be used to clear those lanes. These walls also mark the former entrances to the parking area when the river-level lanes were part of the Fort Pitt Blvd bypass. Official flood stage is 25 feet; that's when the "Parkway Central" fills with water. On the retaining wall holding the westbound Boulevard, a conduit for traffic cameras marks the level of the 34.6-foot flood of January 20, 1996.
Despite its decay, Fort Pitt Blvd is aesthetically interesting in its design...if not photogenic. The highlight is the thistle railing which may be found on other county-built bridges of the time, but nowhere else in this abundance. And its combination with the curving ramps and overpasses sits well with the historically and architecturally significant buildings which line the street. These Victorian buildings, designated as a National Register District, are noted as a reminder of Pittsburgh's days as a bustling river port, with steamboats crowded like nursing piglets along the Wharf. The blocks between Stanwix St and Market St were part of the original plan of lots laid out by Colonel John Campbell in 1764. In addition, the blocks extending upriver to Grant St are known known as Firstside. The older buildings represent some of the few remaining examples of the first wave of rebuilding in the wake of the fire of 1845 -- and as such are some of the oldest buildings in downtown Pittsburgh.
Pylons at each end of the elevated eastbound lanes mark the extent of the 1940 project.
FEDERAL WORKS AGENCY|
PUBLIC WORKS ADMINISTRATION
JOHN M. CARMODY
FEDERAL WORKS ADMINISTRATION
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
BOULEVARD IN THE POINT AREA
RECONSTRUCTION AND WIDENING
OF WATER STREET
COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY|
JNO. J. KANE
GEO. RANKIN, JR. JOHN S. HERRON
ROBERT G. WOODSIDE
COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF WORKS
JOHN F. LABOON
THIS PROJECT WAS DESIGNED AND CONSTRUCTED BY THE
COUNTY AS AN AID TO THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH FOLLOWING
THE PLANS OF THE CITY PLANNING COMMISSION FOR BY-PASSING
THROUGH TRAFFIC TO RELIEVE DOWNTOWN CONGESTION.
INFO SOURCES: Lorant "Pittsburgh", National Weather Service website
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