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Editorial: Roads with a view / The Fort Pitt fight engineers a new barrier

Monday, November 04, 2002

Leave it to the nation's erstwhile Smoky City to go gaga over the design of a guardrail. But last week's unveiling, at the Byham Theater Downtown, of the new "Pennsylvania Barrier" says two important things about the Pittsburgh of the 21st century.

First, there are dramatic vistas around these rivers and hills. Second, there are plenty of people here willing to fight to preserve them.

Because of the battle waged against the proposed installation of 42-inch concrete walls along the sides of the Fort Pitt Bridge inbound next year, Pennsylvania will have a new type of barrier that lets in the view. Better than that, other states doing interstate highway construction will be free to use the landscape-friendly design as well.

The Pennsylvania Barrier, a compromise engineered to satisfy highway safety engineers and plain folks who wanted to save the view, will feature two horizontal steel rails, each with nine inches of open space under them, atop a 24-inch concrete base. The curb and guardrail system received the necessary approval for use by the Federal Highway Administration when the agency certified it able to meet crash and safety standards.

While the battle was successful since it will preserve the view after upcoming construction on the Fort Pitt, Homestead Grays, 16th Street and 31st Street bridges, it came too late for the city's Glenwood Bridge over the Monongahela River and the Interstate 70 bridge at Smithton over the Youghiogheny River. Both are rimmed by solid protective walls and are like driving through a giant concrete gutter.

But perhaps it took such glaring bad examples to demonstrate what the public would lose.

Rallying 'round the issue were Mayor Tom Murphy, Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey, Steelers executive Art Rooney, the Riverlife Task Force, the Heinz Endowments, County Council and Duquesne University. But also deserving credit was state Transportation Secretary Brad Mallory, who was willing to entertain a new barrier design.

Call it the fight with a happy ending -- and a panoramic view.

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