By Andy Medici

After years of community effort and three different mayoral administrations, Western Avenue will be given a pedestrian-friendly makeover. The $1.7 million project will focus on improvements to the sidewalk, street lights and the overhanging power lines.

In a bricklaying ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 22, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl spoke to residents and business owners in front of the Parador Inn on Western Avenue about the importance of small business districts.

“Resources like these are necessary not only for the business district but for the quality of life of the residents,” Ravenstahl said.

He added that he would be focusing a “Taking Care of Business” campaign on the plight of small business districts around the city. And that while not every district will receive funding for projects, he will work to show that the City supports them.

Joe Lawrence, the chairman of the Northside Leadership Conference, said that the project would not have happened if it weren’t for a decade of community activism and hard work. He also added that for the longest time funding was an issue, but that the necessary resources came together at the right time.

Gloria Raymond, the president of the Allegheny West Civic Council, said that it was spectacular to have finally begun construction on a project that had for so long been a priority for the people of Allegheny West.

She also said that the focus on pedestrian access was an important part of the project, noting the district’s location near downtown and the current state of sidewalk disrepair.

“We’re so close to downtown and we have a lot of people that walk there,” Raymond said. “And the sidewalk is a skateboard park, it’s very pedestrian friendly.”

She also emphasized the safety aspect, noting that new lighting will replace the current setup, which leaves portions of the street dark at night. And that these improvements will make the street more inviting to visitors.

The speakers and other members of the community then went to a patch of sidewalk and laid the ceremonial bricks that will begin the process.

The project, which commenced Oct. 7 and will take one year to complete, includes: the removal of the existing badly decayed infrastructure; the relocation of overhead utility lines to alleyways; new brick sidewalks, storm drains, street lighting, and street trees.

The City extended funding to the tune of $350,000 after construction costs increased and it became harder to secure financing for the project. Since the project began roughly 10 years ago, it has run into one road block after another – everything from losing half of the funding when the City was placed under Act 47 status, to having to resubmit the drawings for approval and re-bid the contract. Last year, the AWCC found they were once again under-funded because of the huge increase in construction materials. They approached the Mayor’s Office for the final piece of funding.

Funding for this project comes from special assessments of property owners in the Western Avenue Neighborhood Improvement District, matched by the City of Pittsburgh, Urban Redevelopment Authority, and the R.K. Mellon Foundation. To accelerate the project, the Allegheny West Civic Council secured a $450,000 loan from First National Bank which will be repaid by the property owners’ assessments.

The Northside Leadership Conference is providing project management services to the all-volunteer AWCC. ASTCO Construction is the general contractor and Wilbur Smith Associates is providing construction management services. Landscape architects Pashek Associates developed the design.