A Pocusset problem

A Pocusset problem

The Greenfield Bridge will be imploded in 2015.
The Greenfield Bridge will be imploded in 2015.

Twenty-three years ago, the city hung nets on the Greenfield Bridge to catch debris that had begun falling from the bridge’s underside.

Ten years ago, an “under-bridge” was added to catch the debris the nets were missing.

And though Patrick Hassett, assistant public works director for transportation and engineering insists that bridge-like structure “is working, unless something bounces,” the city will go ahead with plans to demolish the span and rebuild it entirely from scratch.

The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition held a public meeting Tuesday evening to review the city’s plans, both for the bridge’s closure and the future of the Schenley Park leg of Pocusset Street, which has been closed for several months.

The current plan calls for the bridge to close in October 2015 so crews may begin dismantling it. On Christmas Eve that year, a chorus line of trucks will dump at least 10 feet of dirt on the Parkway beneath the bridge to cushion its Christmas Day-implosion. The demolition will close that stretch of the Parkway for the week between Christmas and the New Year, when the highway typically sees the lightest traffic.

The new bridge will be named the Beechwood Boulevard Bridge as a nod to its predecessor. It will be an ornate, steel arch-adorned span with urns and period lighting. Travel lanes will remain the same, with two lanes of traffic heading toward Schenley Park and one toward Greenfield. It will also include a 5 feet wide, dedicated bike lane.

The bridge, which will cost $15 to $20 million, is projected to open to traffic in May 2017, Hassett said.

Plans for Pocusset Street, which runs downhill east to west through Schenley Park from the southeast corner of Squirrel Hill, are more uncertain. The city plans to keep it closed to motor vehicle traffic for at least the next two years after deeming it egregiously unsafe for car travel.

“It’s been a problem child since I’ve been in this position,” Hassett said. “We have hillside issues and storm water issues, but we haven’t viewed it as a safety hazard until recently.”

The Department of Public Works had planned to resurface Pocusset, but during a pre-construction survey, inspectors discovered the road was undermined by a cavity of between 12 and 15 feet, two areas of significant washout on the downhill side, and total obstruction of all storm and French drains.

An engineering firm hired to inspect and evaluate the road told the DPW it would cost $600,000 to $700,000 to make the road a viable option for motor vehicle traffic.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” Hassett said.

A number of Pocusset residents complained about the lack of appropriate signage indicating the road’s closure, insisting that some motorists continue to drive it at high speeds toward Greenfield Avenue Others asserted that the closed stretch of Pocusset has given rise to “certain activities,” such as drug use, and asked that the area be more strictly patrolled.

Hassett is floating a plan that would keep Pocusset open to pedestrians and bicyclists, but closed to all other traffic except for EMS vehicles, which need to retain access to the road.

In that event, blocking off the road with permanent cones called candlesticks, as was done for Ophelia Street in Oakland following the refurbishment of the Boulevard of the Allies Bridge, is the most likely option, he continued, noting that the road would be restriped for cyclists and pedestrians.

(Matthew Wein can be reached at wein.matthew@gmail.com.)