The Semicir Street wall and soil stabilization project has begun.
By Ashlee Green
Photo: Semicir Street residents Mitch Hall and Jaime Filipek stand in front of what they now refer to as the “valley”: the active landslide area in the middle of the street, where their former neighbor’s home collapsed last year. The residents say they’ve done enough research and landscape management on and around their home to feel confident that it will not have the same fate. By Ashlee Green
Semicir Street is soon to be closed for 2020.
The City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), in order to mitigate the damage done to Semicir Street by continuing landslides in the Northside’s Observatory Hill area, announced on September 14 that they have begun the Semicir Street wall and soil stabilization project. Through traffic will be completely closed off from Perrysville Avenue to Hemphill Street for approximately six months, with the exception of resident, emergency, public works, and delivery vehicles.
The project, an $890,000 effort of DOMI, will work toward fixing slope instability issues in the area. It’s a response to a condemned home collapsing and others being evacuated and demolished in the area. Over the last year, engineers have assessed the Semicir Street hillside structure in preparation for the project launch.
Jaime Filipek and Mitch Hall live at 49 Semicir Street and say this project has been a long time coming. They say driving and parking along Semicir is already difficult: garbage trucks, for example, have to back down the street, and residents often don’t receive packages because drivers don’t want to chance it. Last year, they say—the same year their former neighbor’s home collapsed from landslide damage—electricity lines were capped and replaced along most of the street and removed entirely from the active landslide area, what they now refer to as the “valley.”
“…The middle of the street no longer exists in terms of utilities,” Filipek says.
Updated water lines and new fire hydrants were added, too, they say, to deal with the area’s ongoing water runoff issues.
Filipek and Hall say that so far, they have seen PWSA workers scoping and cleaning out sewer lines, which are located in Riverview Park, and frequently testing the integrity of the affected hillside’s soil with geotechnical borings. At the time of publication, Filipek says crews have begun to replace old sewer lines; they are closing off Semicir Street during the day, while work is taking place.*
While the [homeowners] say they’ve done enough research and landscape management on and around their home to feel confident that it won’t come down like the others, it’s still a fear that weighs regularly on their minds, especially when their former neighbor’s house lay in ruins for months after it collapsed and before it was removed earlier this year.
“We got used to the [fallen] house being there,” Filipek says. “It’s increased my confidence now that the house is gone. When it was just like laying there, that was difficult to not feel forgotten on this street.”
Hall says the ongoing problems on and around Semicir Street demonstrate the intersection between landscape, infrastructure, and biology.
“…We have the jumping worms that have eaten a lot of organic material from our forest [and an overpopulation of] deer which have eliminated regenerating vegetation. There’s so many compounding factors that play into something that can lead to catastrophic failure.”
Despite how difficult it’s been for Filipek and Hall to be patient for the Semicir improvement process to begin, they are thrilled for the project to get going.
“I’m very grateful that the City’s committed to the street,” says Filipek. “It’s been a long process, but it seems like they’re actually starting, so I’m very excited for that.”
“It’s kind of on and on and on and on—just pull the Band-Aid off already,” Hall says with a laugh.
To find more information about the Semicir Street wall and soil stabilization project, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 412-255-2523.
Editor’s note 10/12/2020: Filipek reports that there has been another stop in construction. Semicir Street, she says, has been quiet since the sewer line work took place there at the end of September.