For 10 years there has been talk about the Heth’s Run Ecological and Recreational Restoration Project, with little progress.
That’s about to change with the reconstruction of an old bridge and recent allocation of $200,000 for engineering and design. City and community leaders say it’s finally time for action.
Heth’s Run Valley is a strip of land that spans the Morningside neighborhood to Butler Street in Highland Park, encompassing the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium parking lots. The Pittsburgh Department of Public Works, in partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and community groups, plan to transform the area into a mix of trails, recreational facilities, green spaces and green infrastructure.
“People are excited to see it one step closer to being real,” says Councilperson Deborah Gross. “It has been a distant idea for a lot of members of the community for a long time.”
The concept started 12 years ago with plans to replace the dilapidated Heth’s Run Bridge, which once served as an arched entryway above Highland Park in the early 1900s, but was filled with incinerator ash in the 50’s and 60’s. Highland Park Community Development Corp. President David Hance said officials wanted to revisit the idea of getting back underneath the bridge.
In 2013, PennDOT began construction on the new Heth’s Run Bridge, which will evoke the same qualities as the original. The project includes clearing the backfill from underneath the bridge to allow the original stream to flow to the river and to make room for a pedestrian gateway to Highland Park and the Zoo.
“The minute the [bridge] project started, a lot of people starting having conversations about phase two,” says Monica Watt, president of the Highland Park Community Council.
On July 9, City Council allocated $200,000 for the design and engineering process, and the DPW will need to secure another $200,000 to finish the process. Officials say construction is too far off to estimate a timeline.
The conceptual plan includes expanding the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium parking lots into areas previously used by the Department of Public Works and a putting new public soccer field and green space in place of the south lots.
A major priority of the plan will be incorporating green infrastructure such as bio-retention trenches, pervious pavement and rain gardens to minimize stormwater runoff. “It will be a place where you can play soccer or have a picnic, and behind the scenes it is lessening the effects on the city resources,” says Scott Roller, senior marketing and communications manager at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
“The project says a lot about Pittsburgh’s values,” says Hance. “It will provide a dramatically improved entrance for the Zoo, give residents a portal to the riverfront, and feature a handicap-accessible and very bikeable trail.”