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Allegheny River Boulevard - Pittsburgh's Blunder Boulevard

Authorized for construction as part of the 1928 Allegheny County Bond Issue, Allegheny River Boulevard runs from Washington Blvd. in the Highland Park neighborhood of the City of Pittsburgh to Hulton Road in the suburb of Oakmont.  When opened in 1934, the roadway was Pittsburgh's first link between the city and the suburbs to the north and east.  However, unlike her sister highways; Ohio River Boulevard to the west, Saw Mill Run Boulevard to the south, and Moss Side Boulevard on the eastern edge of the county, Allegheny River Boulevard would be the last to open after a nearly three-year struggle over what amounted to basically 1300 feet of highway.
 
The 1928 bond issue allocated over $3.5 million for the construction of the four-and-one-half-mile roadway from Washington Boulevard in Highland Park to Wildwood Avenue in Verona. (1)  The most challenging part for engineers was designing and constructing the roadway from Washington Boulevard to Nadine Road.  This section was known for its fast-rising slopes along the south shores of the Allegheny River.  Another obstacle was the railroad tracks owned by the Allegheny Valley Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad.  The ultimate obstacle that would hold the highway in doubt for nearly three years was land owned by the Pennsylvania Water Commission in Nadine.

Forgotten by over 70 years of time is the roadway's original nickname, "Blunder" or "Bungle Boulevard."  The blunder, an oversight by Allegheny County Director of Public Works Norman F. Brown, was a dispute over the right-of-way between the Pennsylvania Water Commission and Allegheny County.  This would also include the Pennsylvania Railroad as they owned rail tracks the county wished to move. (2)  The cost of the mistake was one-half million dollars. (3)  Although the water commission and the county wished to come upon a settlement, by 1932 the entire highway was completed with the exception of the "bungled" area that would in the end only be 1,300 feet of roadway.

While many compromises were being discussed including a 1,700-foot link that included "a grade of less than 8 percent, in a sweeping curve with a 600-foot radius...the eastern end [would] descend to meet the present improved highway on a 4 percent grade.", a bridge would be built over Nadine Road and a "ramp at the eastern end leading down into the Nadine Road and the water company's plant." (4)  As various local and state politicians got involved, the "blunder" was an issue in the 1931 Allegheny County Commissioner Race in which Brown lost, other communities provided their own pressure to the design of the highway.  In 1933, Penn Township announced that the community would oppose any plan that would not give the township a highway outlet to the river.  (5)  Oakmont petitioned for a fast solution so area communities could reap the benefits of the new road. (6)

It wasn't until the Spring of 1933 when Pennsylvania Governor Pinchot signed a bill that "[gave] county commissioners authority to force settlement of the right-of-way problem by relocating the rights-of-way of public service companies." (7)  The bill was sponsored by Representative James H. McClure and paved the way to the ultimate completion of the highway.  Work was scheduled to begin immediately and by the Winter of 1934, the highway was opened.  An editorial in the February 1, 1934 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette read, "Now that the Nadine bottleneck in the Allegheny River Boulevard has been opened, an old reliable item will be missed by newspaper readers.  The story of the Nadine jam was a pretty expensive comic serial."

Allegheny River Boulevard entrance pylons in Verona. (Eric Lasher)
One of the key features of Allegheny River Boulevard was eight "observation turnouts" along the highway.  These parkway-like features included stone observation platforms that allowed for wide vistas of the Allegheny River.  In addition, two concrete pylons designed by Frank Vitter were placed at each end of the boulevard.  Currently, two pylons at the original northern terminus of Allegheny River Boulevard remain standing in Verona.

Today, safety and capacity concerns and improvements are the major issues of the highway.  Other issues include the deteriorating condition of the scenic pull-offs that were part of the original design and a redesign of the highway in Penn Hills.  During the mid-1990s, two groups, Preservation Pennsylvania and Scenic America deemed the highway at risk due to the deterioration of the turnouts and bridges, unchecked overgrowth, and commercial billboards.  Preservation Pennsylvania in 1995 suggested that the boulevard be added to the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2003,  the Pittsburgh non-profit organization, Friends of the Riverfront, suggested that Allegheny River Boulevard be considered for a Pennsylvania Scenic Byways designation that would help to preserve the scenic attributes of the roadway.  Currently, neither designation has occurred.  Later in 2008, the National Parks Service conducted a Historic American Landscapes Survey of Allegheny River Boulevard and the three pull-offs.

In 2007, the Town of Verona refurbished the two concrete pylons on Allegheny River Boulevard.  The refurbishment included fixing the illumination system inside the sculpture allowing the pylons to be lit for the first time in decades. (Eric Lasher)
For the 2007 US Open at Oakmont Country Club, the Town of Verona refurbished the Allegheny River Boulevard pylons.  The rehabilitation also included restoring the pylons' ability to light up at night.  This was the first time the pylons were illuminated in an unknown amount of time.  The restoration has been a source of civic pride and initiated hope that the entire boulevard and scenic observation points can be restored to their prior grandeur. 

The relit pylon from the outbound side. (Eric Lasher)
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Sources & Links:
  • Eric Lasher
  • (1) "Task of Providing Modern Highway Along Steep Hill Is Difficult." Pittsburgh Press. August 29, 1929.
  • (2) "Brown Denies 'Blunder' Made In Boulevard." Pittsburgh Press. July 17, 1930.
  • (3) "Bungle To Cost Half Million." Pittsburgh Press. November 26, 1930.
  • (4) "Officials May Blast To Build Highway." Pittsburgh Press. August 19, 1932.
  • (5) "Still Further Delay Seen In Nadine Pass." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 27, 1933.
  • (6) "Nadine Road Problems Up For Solution." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 24, 1932.
  • (7) "Pinchot Signs Bill Erasing Nadine Error." Pittsburgh Press. April 11, 1933.
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