Ohio River Boulevard
By the mid-1970's, Ohio River Boulevard had gone from a beautiful tree lined thoroughfare connecting neighboring communities from the north and west with Pittsburgh into a wretched eyesore and a deathtrap.  As the decade closed, one of the deadliest eras of Pittsburgh roadways would begin.  Beginning November 7, 1979 and running through March of 1981, 15 individuals would lose their lives on the boulevard.  Eight of which occurred between Manchester and the McKees Rocks Bridge. (1)  The deadliest period was the first half of 1980 when seven people lost their lives; compare the number of dead to the three that lost their lives on the Parkway West (I-279) and the two on the Parkway East (I-376) during the same time period. (1)

Planning for Ohio River Boulevard began in the 1920s. (see scans below) Funded by the 1928 County Bond Issue, construction began on the route that would run from the city neighborhood of Manchester to the Borough of Emsworth. (2)  The four and a half mile brick-paved roadway would be 40 feet wide and have numerous bridges over local roads and various tributary streams of the Ohio River.  It would end at a grand traffic circle on the North Shore of the Ohio River at the McKees Rocks Bridge. The route that was built to relieve traffic and accidents on California Ave. was dedicated in August 1931 at a final cost of $12 million. (3)  Originally maintained by Allegheny County, the Commonwealth took control of the highway in 1941.

1926 proposed routing of Ohio River Blvd.  (Click to Enlarge) (4)

As traffic levels on Ohio River Blvd. began to increase in the 1950s and 60s, various plans were introduced to improve the highway.  Ideas ranged from widening the highway to building a new expressway to current day I-79.  Many of these proposals would fall to the wayside because of lack of funding and interest or community protest.  During the 1960s, a southern extension of the boulevard to PIttsburgh's North Side was discussed and by 1973 the highway opened from the Ft. Duquesne Bridge to Ridge Avenue and the McKees Rocks Bridge to Beaver Ave. and Chateau St. (5)  The missing gap which includes a connection to the West End Bridge did not open until January 1992. (6)

Safety became the number one issue for Ohio River Boulevard during the 1970s.  In July 1976, parts of four bridges were closed by the state.  Bridges over Jacks Run, Dillsworth Run, Spruce Run and South Freemont St. either had sidewalks closed or both sidewalks and the curb lane shut down. (3) Many of these projects would not begin until the mid 1980s.  The traffic circle had earlier been removed as the freeway to the North Shore began to take place.  Another rash of fatalities in 1987, including six over a three week period in August of 1987 (7), prompted many local municipalities to heighten traffic patrols, lower speed limits, and drunk driving checkpoints.

Today, Ohio River Blvd. is an eclectic mix of grand homes in Ben Avon to narrow and tight gas stations, restaurants, and repair shops in Bellevue.  Many steps have been taken to improve various intersections and facilities along Ohio River Blvd.  In 1999, after years of debate and controversy, construction to widen Ohio River Blvd. in Bellevue from Kendall Ave. to the Dillsworth Run Bridge. (8) In 2005, plans to continue the widening south of the Dillsworth Run Bridge to Prospect Street will also become reality.

Below, photos of pylons placed at the beginning of the project near Camp Horne Road in Emsworth.  Despite showing their age, these concrete monuments have existed for well over seventy years.

Left Image: Looking outbound at the twin markers at the Emsworth Terminus of Ohio River Blvd.  Both markers read 'Ohio River Boulevard' and 'Beaver' for the Beaver County Seat further Northwest.  (Photo taken by Eric Lasher.)

Right Image: Looking inbound and what was the beginning of Ohio River Blvd. towards Pittsburgh.  Sides of these markers read Ohio River Boulevard and 'Pittsburgh'.  (Photo taken by Eric Lasher.)

Left Image: Close-up of the outbound facing pylon.  The metal bands are placed to hold the aging, cracking structure together.

Right Image: Close-up of the same marker facing inbound.  Time has weathered many of the visual effects of both pylons.

Site Navigation & Links:

  • Return to The SWPA Roads Project Index
  • PA 65 Ends @ State-Ends.com
  • Ohio River Boulevard @ Pittsburgh Highways ---Jeff Kitsko
  • PA 65 @ PAHighways.com ---Jeff Kitsko
  • PA 65 Junction List @ Central PA Roads ---Tim Reichard
  • PA 65 Exit Guide @ PAHighways.com ---Jeff Kitsko
  • Sources:

  • (1) Wetzler, Todd M. "At Your Own Risk." Pittsburgh September 1982: 68-82.
  • (2) Neeson, Vincent C. "Highway to Connect City with North Boroughs and Beaver Rd." Pittsburgh Press September 6, 1929.
  • (3) Filip, Joseph. "Ohio River Blvd. Repairs Headed for Delays." Pittsburgh Press January 23, 1981.
  • (4) "N. Boroughs Get County OK on Boulevard." Pittsburgh Gazette-Times October 29, 1926.
  • (5) Kitsko, Jeff. "Pittsburgh Highways: Ohio River Boulevard." Pittsburgh Highways. http://www.pahighways.com/pghhwys/expwys/orblvd.html (March 2, 2003)
  • (6) Belko, Mark. "Long Wait to End as Road Link Opens." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette January 14, 1992.
  • (7) Hammonds, Donald I. "Speeders, Money soon Parted." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette June 23, 1988.
  • (8) Grata, Joe. "List of Road Projects During 1999." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 28, 1998.



    Page Created: March 3, 2003
    Last Updated: August 29, 2004

    (C) 2003-04 William Lawson