Skip to main content

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 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 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 per cent 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 to Allegheny River Boulevard was eight "observation turnouts" along the highway.  These parkway like features included stone observation platforms 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 hope that the entire boulevard and scenic observation points can be restored to its prior grandeur. 
The relit pylon from the outbound side. (Eric Lasher)
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.
  •  

    Comments

    Popular posts from this blog

    History of the Big Oak Flat Road (Yosemite National Park)

    This week I hiked much of what was the original alignment of the Big Oak Flat Road which is located to the north of the modern roadway.  Unlike the original alignment of the Wawona Road the Old Big Oak Flat Road is surprisingly intact.


    The complete history of the Big Oak Flat Road including the original alignment can be found on a 2002 report from the U.S. Department of Interior on the Old Big Oak Flat Road.

    U.S. Department of the Interior on the Old Big Oak Flat Road

    The Big Oak Flat Road began construction east from the mining community of Big Oak Flat in towards Yosemite Valley in 1869.  The Big Oak Flat Road was constructed by the Chinese Camp and Yosemite Turnpike Company which had secured the franchise rights for a toll road to the Yosemite Grant (the designation prior to Yosemite National Park).  By the summer of 1871 the Big Oak Flat Road reached the northern cliffs above Yosemite Valley which is when the Chinese Camp and Yosemite Turnpike Company ran out of funding.  After the…

    The Tioga Pass Road

    Last Summer the Tioga Pass Road over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite National Park opened late due to the heavy snow pack from the previous winter.  Approaching the start of July the Park Service finally had cleared the road to Tioga Pass.  That being the case I headed up shortly after the 4th of July holiday during a lull in the tourist season.


    The Tioga Pass Road runs from the Big Oak Flat Road at Crane Flat east to US Route 395 ("US 395").  The Tioga Pass Road is largely within the boundary of Yosemite National Park but is maintained by Caltrans as California State Route 120 ("CA 120") east of the Tioga Pass entry station to US 395.  The National Park Service maintained portion of the Tioga Pass Road serve as a implied connection between the two segments of CA 120.  The Tioga Pass Road is the highway mountain pass in California reaching Tioga Pass at 9,945 feet above sea level.



    Part 1; the history of the Tioga Pass Road

    Tioga Pass first obtained notewort…

    Horseshoe Meadows Road; former California State Route 190 and the legacy of the Lone Pine-Porterville HIgh Sierra Road

    This summer I had an opportunity to drive one of the lesser known great roads of California; Horseshoe Meadows Road from Whitney Portal Road westward into Horseshoe Meadows of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Aside from being massive climb into the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains the path of Horseshoe Meadows Road was once part of California State Route 190 and was intended to be part of a Trans-Sierra Highway known as the Lone Pine-Porterville High Sierra Road.


    Horseshoe Meadows Road is located west of Lone Pine of Inyo County and is 19.7 miles in length.  Horseshoe Meadows Road begins at an approximate elevation of 4,500 feet above sea level at Whitney Portal Road in the Alabama Hills and ends at an elevation of 10,072 feet above sea level in Horseshoe Meadows.  Horseshoe Meadows Road is the second highest paved road in California only behind Rock Creek Road near Tom's Place.  Pjammcycling rates Horseshoe Meadows Road with an average gradient of 6.2% and lists it as th…