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Bridge replacement in Highland Park will beautify zoo entrance

| Sunday, April 28, 2013, 11:41 p.m.
The state Department of Transportation will detour traffic for about one year starting in September to rebuild the Heth’s Run Bridge near the entrance of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium in Highland Park.

Motorists can expect frustration when crews begin replacing a bridge on Butler Street in Highland Park, but officials say the finished product will be worth the pain.

PennDOT will detour traffic for about one year, starting in September, around Heth's Run Bridge near the entrance of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The $15 million state-funded project will open access to the Allegheny River for the first time in generations and enable planning for a grand entrance to the zoo and Highland Park. It will correct a confusing traffic pattern for drivers heading to the zoo from Highland Park Bridge.

“We're actually re-establishing what was there at the turn of the century,” said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, a Highland Park Democrat, who has worked on the project for 20 years. “We're preparing something for the future generation to consider, in terms of interacting with the river.”

Stanley L. Roush, noted for such Pittsburgh landmarks as the “sister bridges” crossing the Allegheny at Sixth, Seventh and Ninth streets, designed the bridge, built in 1914. Over the years, the city filled in a 75-foot ravine under the now-dilapidated span with rubble, blocking access to the river.

State, city and community groups advocated for the state to replace the bridge and restore the ravine.

“There is going to be a lot of pain at the beginning of this process, but it's really time for the bridge to be rebuilt,” said Monica Watt, president of Highland Park Community Council. “It's come to the end of its life, and there's so much good that can happen once it's replaced.”

When the bridge and ravine work are finished, the city hopes to transform about one-third of the zoo parking lot near Butler Street into a lush greenway with an athletic field, bike and walking paths connecting East End neighborhoods to the river, and a deck overlooking the river and Highland Park Locks and Dam.

City officials hope for funding from the state and federal governments. Planners estimated several years ago the work would cost $12 million.

“That first impression of the city right now, coming across the Highland Park Bridge, isn't very welcoming,” said David Hance, president of Highland Park Community Development Corp.

The state is paying the city $375,300 to acquire rights-of-way next to the bridge for the construction, and Councilman Patrick Dowd, who represents Highland Park, said he hopes to persuade council to earmark the cash for the park.

Dowd said improvements could include connecting park trails to one that would run along the river to Downtown and points north. He envisions a trolley that would carry passengers from Downtown to the zoo.

“We've always agreed that the No. 1 first move has to be the bridge, and once the bridge is reconstructed, other things can build from there,” Dowd said.

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312.

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