30 Years: New roads provide suburban access but contribute to sprawl, gridlock
October 6, 2013 8:00 AM
The completion of I-279 provided greater access to the North Hills and its suburbs, but also a two-way street back into Pittsburgh.
The Waterfront in Homestead.
By Len Barcousky Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh's early suburbs developed near trolley tracks and along rail lines that offered passenger service. People lived where they could get to work, school and shopping quickly and cheaply.
Trips to Pittsburgh from neighborhoods such as Shaler were time-consuming and, therefore, rare. That reality left much of the North Hills and western neighborhoods as farm fields and small towns well into the 20th century.
That changed with the completion of Interstate 79, the combining of several roads into Interstate 376, and, especially, the construction of Interstate 279. Once I-279 offered a quick link between Downtown Pittsburgh and I-79, families flocked to single-family homes, townhouses and apartments in Franklin Park, Cranberry and communities farther north in Butler and even Lawrence counties.
Ironically at the same time that new highways made it easier to get to the region's major metropolitan area, many companies and cultural amenities were locating in the suburbs. Commuting became more of a two-way street with many city residents heading to jobs around Pittsburgh International Airport and Southpointe, RIDC O'Hara and Thorn Hill industrial parks.
New shopping complexes opened in Robinson and Frazer and at least a dozen local colleges and universities are offering evening classes and degree programs at new suburban locations.
The most surprising change of the past 30 years may well have been the rebirth of commercial development in Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall. On the same land along the Monongahela River where giant steel plants employed thousands, retail clerks and restaurant workers now serve thousands of customers at the Waterfront shopping complex.