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Ohio River Boulevard

Description of Ohio River Boulevard
By Edward L. Schmidt
Chief Engineer, Bureau of Roads
County Department of Public Works

During the early part of 1926, an organization representing the North Boroughs was formed to promote the idea of constructing a high speed boulevard from the west County line to Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle. This organization represented all the Boroughs north of the Ohio RIver and was known as "North Boroughs Associated Councils."

After several meetings the organization presented the idea of a high-speed boulevard to the Board of County Commissioners in March, 1927. The need of such a highway being apparent, the various representatives pledged their support to an item in the Peoples Bond Issue of 1928 to finance such a project -- such a project to be a High-Speed Thoroughfare through Pittsburgh and the North Boroughs which would avoid the congested business streets of this populous section. Former plans for this improvement had attempted to use secondary streets. While these plans avoided congestion on main business streets, they would not, however avoid numerous street crossing which are always potential sources of delay and accidents; street crossing comparing with railroad crossings as hazards on modern high-speed motor highways.

The Ohio River Boulevard, in its present location, abandoned the idea of using secondary streets and the possibility of cross-streets by occupying the land adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad on the Ohio River bluffs. This location allows sufficient feeders and also eliminates the hazards of cross-streets.

Following the approval of the project by vote of the people in the 1928 bond issue, contract plans were prepared from exhaustive field surveys, the results of which were the production and projection of the best possible lines and grades from which there has been no necessity for deviation. The heavy cuts encountered required the use of high grade modern construction equipment. In the movement of excavated material, it was necessary to use the heaviest type of tractors and trucks available. Several cuts were made to depths ranging from 50 feet to 75 feet. Fills aggregating approximately 800,000 cubic yards of filling material were rolled in place in 6 and 8-inch layers, with rollers of the latest approved type to form the proper sub-grade for a 40-foot concrete base course of 9-inch thickness. This base was paved with three inch depth vitrified paving brick laid on a sand cushion.

By the will of the people and instructions from the Board of County Commissioners, consisting of Joseph G. Armstrong, Chairman; E. V. Babcock and C. C. McGovern, the Department of Public Works, under Norman F. Brown, started contract work in July, 1929 on the Ohio River Boulevard, consisting of grading the 60-foot right of way and a 40-foot paving, five and one-half miles long. The Boulevard, together with the McKees Rocks Bridge and its Termon Avenue approach which joins the Boulevard in a traffic circle was completed in August, 1931. In approximately two years a $12,000,000 artery of traffic comparable to the best in the eastern United States and surpassing many in Europe was opened for use of the travelling public.

In July, 1929 a contract was awarded and the actual grading work was started for the portion of the highway between Horne Camp Road and the McKees Rocks Bridge, traversing the City of Pittsburgh and the Boroughs of Bellevue, Avalon, Ben Avon and Emsworth. In February, 1930 a contract was awarded for that section of the highway between McKees Rocks Bridge and Superior Avenue and in November, 1930 a contract was awarded which included the widening, reconstruction and relocation of streets between Superior Avenue and Island Avenue; both within the City limits, connecting the whole project with present streets in the City of Pittsburgh.

Shortly after the Boulevard construction was under way, a contract was let in September, 1930 for the landscaping and planting of all cuts, slopes, fills, traffic islands, banks and berms. Special attention is called to the immediate landscaping of all cuts and fills, the planting of all islands, circles and parking strips with grass, shade trees, shrubs and vines, delighting the thousands of persons who have availed themselves of the uses and beauties of this highway.

The lighting system in use was brought about after numerous conferences, and with the cooperation of the four boroughs and the City of Pittsburgh. The lights consisting of 1,000 candle power are suspended from ornamental fluted poles, no wooden poles being permitted on the boulevard from one end to the other.

The topography of the district through which the Ohio River Boulevard passes is such as to require a large number of bridges. The Boulevard is located in general on a high bluff overlooking the Ohio River. This bluff is cut by numerous ravines requiring 10 bridges of lengths up to 800 feet. It was also necessary to construct two foot bridges to enable pedestrians to cross the boulevard safely at Boston and Rankin Avenues and to relocate and reconstruct a small bridge over Spruce Run in connection with the large Spruce Run Bridge. These bridges have a total length of more than 3,000 feet and cost approximately $2,000,000.

Among the numerous structures is the Jacks Run Bridge, one of the largest concrete arches in the Country of the spandrel arch type, having a span of 400 feet with a clearance of 370 feet between abutments. Its total length is 802 feet.

Nowhere in Western Pennsylvania, is there a scenic route comparable to the Ohio River Boulevard. For pleasure and ease of driving, the grades are ideal; the elimination of cross streets gives a feeling of security and the numerous feeders are so located and protected as not to create a hazard. The magnificence of the Ohio River and its valley are in view at practically all times. The scenic effect of the McKees Rocks Bridge and the historic Indian Mound on the river's edge in McKees Rocks, together with the panorama of industry spread over the broad valley, produces an impressive picture.

Original document: "Description of Ohio River Boulevard" from souvenir book published by Allegheny County Public Works Department, 1931

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Last modified: 07-Dec-2004