By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
EAST DEUTSCHTOWN AND SPRING GARDEN — Chestnut Street will likely soon see a new set of bricks under a renovation plan by the City of Pittsburgh that will also see the road lose its historic streetcar rails.
At a public meeting at Tripoli Street Community Center on April 13, Project Manager Michael Panzitta of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) detailed the city’s plan to redo the street starting later this year. Panzitta said he anticipates the brickwork for the planned road renovations to be all new, rather than using the existing bricks.
While the plan calls for the removal of the streetcar rails laid into the road, city officials seemed receptive to suggestions from the audience to preserve or memorialize the rails in some way, shape or form.
An exact timeline for the project has yet to be determined — and, in fact, the city does not have a contractor hired for the work as of yet. But Panzitta presented two scenarios DOMI envisions for the work.
In both scenarios, the city will replace roughly one-third of the street sometime this year, from Spring Garden Avenue to Tripoli Street. Money from the project will come from DOMI’s budget for concrete and brick maintenance, and the extent of the work will depend on bidding results.
DOMI hopes to approach City Council for dedicated funding in next year’s budget. If successful, the rest of the street will be completed sometime in 2024.
If extra funding through the city is not secured, DOMI will instead do roughly another third of the street in 2024, from Tripoli Street to Suismon Street. The remainder of the work would then be completed in 2025.
Regardless of the scenario, DOMI anticipates closing the street while work is taking place and utilizing a detour. Responding to a question from The Chronicle, Panzitta said he was unsure of how long the street would be closed during each phase of the work, but hoped to have that information available in the future.
Chestnut Street has been in a poor state for quite some time. As Panzitta explained, the street is uneven in multiple spots, the rails are not flush with the road, there are deteriorating sidewalks and curbs, difficulties with drainage that results in water pooling in various spots and patches fixed with paving instead of brickwork, leading to an inconsistent surface.
Even further deterioration has taken place below the surface.
“The rutting indicates to us that the concrete base under the bricks is failing in a pretty severe way,” Panzitta said.
Panzitta explained that the rails and steel ties connected to the rails are “integral” to the concrete base. The combined deterioration of the base and the rails, he said, has led to many of the issues the street faces.
It is also due to the rails being integral to the deteriorated base that the city is unable to just “repair around” the rails, Panzitta said, and is why the removal of the rails is planned.
“The concept of somehow extricating the steel of the rail ties and the rail themselves without them also warping through rusting and other deterioration just seemed pretty infeasible and likely why the maintenance has been deferred for so long,” he said.
While the rails will be removed, the street will remain a brick one with a new base underneath. In addition, new curbing and sidewalks will be installed.
The majority of the public meeting was taken up by a Q&A session where Panzitta and Pittsburgh City Councilman Bobby Wilson responded to questions, concerns and comments from community members in the audience. It was during this session that residents made the suggestions to preserve the rails or create some kind of memorial to them as part of the renovation work.
Initially a resident suggested having a line of gray bricks as part of the road to symbolize where the tracks were, though Panzitta said there might be concerns about traffic line confusion with such an idea. That was when another resident brought up the idea of saving some of the metal from the rails and putting it in a space on the side of the road as a kind of memorial.
“Yeah that’s a great idea,” said Councilman Wilson. “I know there are some capital projects where there is art involved. Maybe there is some way to incorporate that into this.”
Wilson said he would look into the matter. The councilman also gave his own suggestion of, once the tracks are removed, “slicing” the steel up and giving it out to local residents.
Other suggestions about the future of the road from residents included requests to look into not having a double-yellow line down the middle as a way to slow traffic, turning the road into a one-way street and even to post a weight limit on the road to keep larger trucks from driving down it. To that third suggestion, Panzitta said he believed regulations required the road to be physically unable to bear larger weights to warrant putting a sign up, and it could not be done just to deter certain kinds of vehicles.
Responding to a concern from another resident, Panzitta said DOMI was working to ensure when future work was done on the road, any removed bricks would be stored and put back once the project was done to prevent the paving patches Chestnut Street currently has in some places.
Further information about the renovations will be posted on the project’s Engage page, at engage.pittsburghpa.gov/chestnut- street-rehabilitation, including a slideshow presentation which was shown at the meeting. Comments and questions can also be submitted at the page, as well as by emailing email@example.com.