West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939

West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939.
The massive retaining wall along West Liberty Avenue was nearly complete and work was
beginning on the actual trolley ramp by June 10, 1939.

In 1939, due to the growing vehicular congestion at the busy intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard, a new trolley ramp was constructed along the lower end of West Liberty Avenue. This diverted the 39-Brookline and 38-Mount Lebanon trolleys from the crowded junction and on to the line used by Dormont and Beechview trolleys.

West Liberty Avenue - September 6, 1938.
A view from Pioneer Avenue, looking down at West Liberty Avenue and the site of the proposed
West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp on September 6, 1938.

The project first required widening the existing four-lane roadway by an additional two lanes, cutting into the hillside along and above West Liberty Avenue, then constructing a long, massive retaining wall, in some spots as high as forty feet.

This phase began in January 1939 and was completed by May. The existing trolley rails and vehicular traffic then had to be diverted around the ramp construction area to ensure that rail traffic and automobile through-traffic was uninterrupted throughout the project. This required the laying of a temporary rail on the outbound side of West Liberty Avenue.

West Liberty Avenue Retaining Wall - January 05, 1939.
By January 5, 1939, work was progressing nicely on the hillside cut.

West Liberty Avenue Retaining Wall - January 23, 1939.
Crews cutting back the hillside next to West Liberty Avenue to create space for
two more traffic lanes on January 23, 1939.

West Liberty Avenue Retaining Wall - April 24, 1939.
Work was proceeding on the tall retaining wall on April 24, 1939.

By June, ramp construction began. Although more work needed to be done, the ramp was officially opened to rail traffic on August 15, 1939. The Brookline and Mount Lebanon trolleys now used the West Liberty ramp to connect to the Palm Garden Trestle on their way towards the South Hills Junction.

Once the ramp work was completed, the old trolley rails had to be removed and the street repaved. By October of 1939 the entire project was finished.

The cost of the nine-month effort was $347,000. In 2018 dollars that total would be adjusted to $6,155,000. As intended, the trolley ramp made a big difference in alleviating traffic congestion at the intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard.

West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939.
Construction on the West Liberty Avenue was well underway on June 20, 1939.

West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939.
Engineers were busy laying the new rails on August 9, 1915. In one week traffic was scheduled to begin.

West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939.
The first inbound trolley to use the West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp was
photographed by the Pittsburgh Press on August 15, 1939.

West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939.
By October 10, 1939 all construction on the West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp was completed.

Unfortunately for South Hills motorists, as the years passed more and more vehicles took to the streets, and the problem returned worse than before. It wasn't until sixty years later, in 1999, that the problem was addressed again, with the construction of the Liberty Tunnels South Interchange.

Today, the trolley ramp is now part of the Port Authority's South Busway, which opened for traffic in 1977. The busway incorporated the existing Palm Garden Bridge and the West Liberty Trolley Ramp, in addition to portions of the Castle Shannon trolley line through Overbrook to Glenbury Street. No longer used for rail traffic, the ramp diverts buses off of West Liberty Avenue onto a dedicated lane that leads to the South Hills Junction.

West Liberty Avenue Bus Ramp - 2017.
The West Liberty Bus Ramp, part of the Port Authority's South Busway, shown in 2017.

* Construction photos provided by Tim Killmeyer *

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