Federal money sought to link lower Hill to Downtown
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Four lawmakers are seeking federal funding for a curving landscaped walkway at the new hockey arena and a giant "cap" over part of the Crosstown Expressway to better connect the Lower Hill District with Downtown.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, Jason Altmire and Tim Murphy have requested a total of $9 million in federal funding for the projects.
Based on a preliminary design, the walkway would be a winding path of porous concrete and gravel that would link plazas on Centre and Fifth avenues on the western edge of the new arena, and be adorned with innovative landscaping and art.
The "cap" would span the block bounded by Washington Place, Centre and Bedford avenues and Chatham Square, just below Mellon Arena, covering a section of Interstate 579, also known as the Crosstown Expressway.
It would have bicycle and walking paths between Downtown and the Lower Hill, according to a statement by Mr. Doyle's office in support of the funding request.
"Currently, there is no such ingress to or egress from the Lower Hill District. Pedestrians and bicyclists are forced to either travel a great distance around several blocks to negotiate a path into [or out of] Downtown or risk a very narrow and dangerous curb on an existing overpass across I-579," Mr. Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said in a request for $2 million sent to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week.
Mr. Casey said in a statement on his Web site that he would seek $4 million for the plaza, and Mr. Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Mr. Altmire, D-McCandless, each are seeking $1.5 million.
Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan said the cap would cover what amounts to a "hole" in the neighborhood and "reconnect the [current] arena site and Lower Hill to Downtown and create some additional green space."
Mr. Altmire and Mr. Casey said the plaza would promote development in the Lower Hill by improving pedestrian access.
"When the arena was built, the Hill District was thriving. Unfortunately, we now see that in many ways the arena cut off access to this area and hampered its growth. With this new project, we want to fix that mistake," said Tess Mullen, Mr. Altmire's communications director.
"We're hoping that improving pedestrian access will help to revitalize the Hill District. It's important to remember that in many cases, increased foot traffic goes hand in hand with increased business revenues and job creation," she said.
The walkway at the new arena is estimated to cost $1.5 million. Named "Curtain Call," the 300-foot path would have what the designer calls a "quilted curtain skin" -- four curved stainless steel structures that would be the framework for a mosaic of up to 27,000 tiles bearing images and photographs of people and places in the Hill District.
In keeping with the "green building" concept promoted for the arena, the walkway will have trees and gardens that are sustained by four vegetated basins that capture and filter rain water, according to a preliminary design report.
The new arena, Consol Energy Center, is scheduled to open for the 2010-11 National Hockey League season.
First Published May 19, 2009 12:00 am