The Boulevard of the Allies
The Boulevard of the Allies is a four-lane roadway that runs from Commonwealth Place, near Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh, to Schenley Park. The route takes motorists past the towering One PPG Place in the heart of the city, along the cliffs of the scenic Bluff and through the heart of southern Oakland. Originally named Monongahela Boulevard, the expressway was renamed, in 1921, in honor of the Allies of the Great War.
Monongahela Boulevard was conceived in 1913 as a response to the popularity of Grant Boulevard. That expressway, now called Bigelow Boulevard, spurred the rapid development of the Schenley Farms area. Monongahela Boulevard was seen as a solution to the increasing traffic flow from downtown to the city's growing eastern neighborhoods.
The Most Expensive Roadway in the World
Constructing the Boulevard of the Allies was a monumental task. The entire roadway was built in a succession of construction phases, over a twenty-year period, beginning in 1920.
The first phase was the widening of Second Avenue from Liberty Avenue, near the Point, to Ross Street. The road was widened to a width of seventy feet, and included the installation of one of the first interconnected traffic signal systems was installed a month later (November 13) on the Boulevard downtown as an experiment. This initial roadwork was completed in August, 1921. Work then began on the next phase, which would extend the road from Ross Street, along the Monongahela River, to Forbes Avenue in southern Oakland.
Two plans were presented for this section. The first was a low-level route paralleling Second Avenue that gradually rose along Boyd's Hill towards southern Oakland. The second proposal, or high-level route, became the accepted design. This plan featured a steeper rise to the Bluff near Duquesne University and incorporated part of Bluff Street. This route included extensive excavating, the erection of large retaining walls and the construction of two lengthy steel and concrete viaducts.
Excavation and shoring up of the cliffside along the Bluff began in August 1921. Several retaining walls were constructed. A path was carved from Magee Street downward along the cliff to a point where the roadway would meet Viaduct #1, which rose in the opposite direction from Grant Street.
Atop the hill, Bluff Street was widened to four lanes, buttressed by massive concrete walls along the length of the hillside. Viaduct #2 carried the roadway over the Brady Street Bridge to a junction with Forbes Avenue near the old Childrens Hospital at Ophelia Street. From there, the Boulevard extended along Forbes until it's temporary terminus at Craft Street. In downtown, from Liberty Avenue to Grant Street, an experimental integrated traffic-signal system was installed, one of the first of it's kind in the country.
This second phase of construction was completed in a little over a year. On October 2, 1922, Monongahela Boulevard, now called the Boulevard of the Allies, was opened to traffic. The span was officially dedicated on November 11, 1922. At a cost of $1.6 million per mile, it was the most expensive road in the world at the time.
The renaming of Monongahela Boulevard was the idea of long-time city councilman Robert Garland. He envisioned a Grand Memorial Way, complete with statues commemorating the leading figures in the Great War, such as General John Pershing, commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and Marshal Foch of France. The name Boulevard of the Allies was adopted, but the grand statuary never materialized. Large pillars topped with eagles at the lower entrance to Viaduct #1, along Grant Street, were the extent of the ornamentation.
Boulevard of the Allies Extension
Planning for the extension of the Boulevard further eastward began immediately. Traffic congestion at the busy Forbes Avenue junction became a growing problem.
A bond issue in 1926 secured the financing to proceed with phase three of construction. A third viaduct was built over a realigned Forbes Avenue, allowing for free flow of traffic past that junction and on to the intersection of Craft and Emily streets. This completed section of the Boulevard of the Allies was dedicated on November 1, 1928. It was touted by city officials that "motorists can now make the entire trip from downtown to Schenley Park without traveling over any streets that include trolley tracks."
The next phase of construction included the widening of Emily Street and Wilmot Street through to the Wilmot Street Bridge, which would carry motorists over Panther Hollow into Schenley Park. This final section of the Boulevard was dedicated on September 19, 1930. The three-mile grand boulevard was now a four-lane, unobstructed roadway all the way from downtown Pittsburgh to the entrance of Schenley Park.
The Wilmot Street Bridge, built in 1907, was a two-lane span. It became an instant traffic bottleneck. In 1939, the bridge was demolished and replaced by the four-lane Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge, dedicated on June 22, 1940. This could be considered the final act in the construction of the Boulevard of the Allies. Ironically, the roadway honoring the Allied effort in World War I was completed at a time when the Allies were reunited once again to battle the forces of Germany in World War II.
The roadway itself did not end there. Once in Schenley Park, the street name changes to Panther Hollow Road, which continues through to Squirrel Hill. The Boulevard of the Allies was soon one of the heaviest traveled arteries in Pittsburgh. From 1926 until the completion of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway in the late-1950s, the Boulevard of the Allies was incorporated into US Route 22/US Route 30, and part of the national Lincoln Highway.
The Penn-Lincoln Parkway
In 1954, work began on the connecting ramps from the Boulevard of the Allies to the new Penn-Lincoln Parkway. These ramps would be located at the Brady Street Bridge. The interchange was completed and open to traffic in September 1956.
Improvements and Enhancements to the Grand Boulevard
Many improvements in the Boulevard have occured over the years. In 1928, the connection ramps to the Liberty Bridge were built. In the 1930s, crash-proof rails were installed along the Bluff and viaducts to prevent the growing number of accidents involving vehicles tumbling over the hillside. In 1987, the Anderson Bridge underwent extensive renovations and, on the opposite end of the Boulevard, connections to the I-579 Crosstown Expressway were added.
In 2007, work began on a new interchange at Forbes Avenue. Viaduct #3 was replaced and an updated ramp design facilitated traffic flow between the Boulevard, Forbes and Fifth Avenues. This final enhancement to Pittsburgh's Grand Memorial Way was completed in May 2009.
The Boulevard of the Allies was rededicated on June 29, 2008 as part of the celebration of Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary. In a grand ceremony, attended by ambassadors and other dignitaries from eleven of the thirty Allied nations from World War I, over 1,500 people gathered along the Boulevard to honor freedom, and celebrate the ideals of peace and the people who helped end the Great War of 1914-1918.
Today, the Boulevard
of the Allies remains one of the heaviest
Dedicated To The Allies Of The Great War (1914-1918)
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