Erie's Highway Timeline
History shows categorical and willful neglect of redlined neighborhoods
A note from the editors: Erie has long been a divided city. Over the years, the construction of new high-traffic roads has served to limit accessibility and demarcate neighborhoods. Pedestrian and bike pathways have unfortunately taken a back seat to car culture. This runs in opposition to the countless studies, suggestions, and words of advice from modern urban planners. As Erie looks to properly develop one of its key resources — its bayfront property — an eye must be kept on the future. Plans must be transparent, with public safety and a more efficient traffic flow being key priorities. A well-developed bayfront must be for the benefit of all Erie residents, not just some.
170 YEARS AGO / Railroads
In 1854, railroads pushed through Erie near 16th St. and for about 16 blocks along the waterfront. Using wooden staircases from bluff-top homes, workers walked down and over tracks to jobs on Presque Isle Bay – where trains dropped off coal and picked up iron ore and lumber from lakeshore steamers.
100 YEARS AGO / Bridge
As tracks divided the city, some neighborhoods were connected by underpasses, overpasses or dangerous at-grade crossings. After fatal accidents on the tracks at East Ave., the public called for a bridge in 1918. Dedicated in 1938, the McBride Viaduct was rebuilt in 1977 then neglected until it's 2019 demolition.
65 YEARS AGO / President Eisenhower promotes highways – total cost - $41 billion
1956 Funded: Federal Aid Highway Act to build 41,000 miles of interstates
1958 Completed: Erie County's 46.4-mile-long portion of I-90
1960 Completed: I-90, Boston to Seattle
1979 Completed: I-79, Erie to Pittsburgh
55 YEARS AGO / Proposed: "Beltway" highway loop around/through City of Erie
32 YEARS AGO / Bayfront Highway (State Rt. 4043)
1989 Construction begins: Bayfront Highway
1995 Name Change: Bayfront Highway to Bayfront Parkway
16 YEARS AGO / Bayfront Connector (Route 290)
By 2005, the Bayfront Connector was completed and featured a $31 million, 1,100-foot-long bridge over Wintergreen Gorge. The Connector is the final segment of the Erie "Beltway" – a highway loop around, and through, the city. While supporting suburban and visitor traffic, the Connector further divides the "redlined" neighborhoods of Eastside Erie.
Over 11 YEARS AGO / Funds to repair Viaduct rejected
State Representative offers funding to repair McBride Viaduct; Mayor Joseph Sinnott declines funding.
11 YEARS AGO / Viaduct closed to vehicles
In 2010, McBride Viaduct closed to vehicular traffic, thus transforming neglected bridge into a pedestrian/bike artery.
10 YEARS AGO / In 2011, L. R. Kimball traffic engineers hired to conduct Viaduct study.
8 YEARS AGO / Viaduct study finished; PennDOT side-steps NEPA
LRK completes Viaduct Study in 2013 and ignore pedestrian data and fail to identify cost reduction due to non-vehicular use. LRK recommends demolishing Viaduct (moving pedestrians to Bayfront Connector). Public outcry. Rather than complete NEPA Environmental Assessment to examine how demolition would impact impoverished environmental justice population, PennDOT receives Categorical Exclusion from FHWA. Re-think the McBride Viaduct group formed (reforms later as ErieCPR, now Connect Urban Erie.) André Horton elected as the first African-American to serve on County Council. Horton represents District 2 – the entire area impacted by PennDOT's Viaduct and Bayfront planning.
4 YEARS AGO / Mayoral race
In 2017, Republican candidate John Persinger spoke in favor of saving the Viaduct. Democratic candidate Joseph Schember opposed preservation but agreed to permit a Public Hearing to weigh the cost/benefits of retaining a non-vehicular bridge.
3 YEARS AGO / Mayoral flip / Community responds
In January 2018, Mayor Schember opposed a Public Hearing and pledged to demolish the bridge. CIVITAS and ErieCPR organized Viaduct Town Hall at Jefferson Educational Society. In March 2018 the New York Times published a front-page story about the Viaduct controversy. ErieCPR raised over $20,000 and hired a civil rights attorney to file a federal lawsuit and appeal in 2018 and 2019 — both dismissed by Judge Susan Paradise-Baxter.
2 YEARS AGO / Merski blocks Public Hearing
In February 2019, then City Councilmember Bob Merski orchestrated block to fellow Councilmembers (Liz Allen, Sonya Arrington, and Kathleen Schaaf) as they attempted to honor the public's call for an on-the-record Viaduct Public Hearing.
2 YEARS AGO / Viaduct demolished $3 million total
The 2019 demolition cost $1.5 million. Flawed study by L.R. Kimball and an engineering plan by Transystems also cost another $1.5 million. Thus, total demolition cost equaled the cost of completely rehabbing the bridge for continued non-vehicular use. Without Viaduct, residents must walk along the Bayfront Connector.
2 years ago / Waterfront highway plan
PennDOT shared a vision of an expanded Bayfront roadway that would increase traffic on the waterfront and on Rt. 290 Bayfront Connector. Challenges were published in the Erie Times-News: "PennDOT Is Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem" Michael Fuhrman, Jan. 2019 and "What Kind of City Do WE want?" Lisa Austin, Aug. 2019
1 YEAR AGO / PennDOT side-steps NEPA (again)
In March 2020 PennDOT applied to the FHWA to skip Environmental Assessment. PennDOT claimed: environment would be unharmed and no significant opposition existed. PennDOT again granted a Categorical Exclusion. Community objected: wrote letters, testified at City Council, protested, marched in support of an Environmental Assessment for PennDOT's $70 - $100 million project.
4 MONTHS AGO / City Council delays PennDOT
08.13.2020 City Council holds Bayfront Study Session on Environmental Assessment
09.14.2020 City Council Bayfront Parkway Public Hearing on Environmental Assessment
Public opposes allowing PennDOT to skip Environmental Assessment while Convention Center, Erie Insurance/BEST, Gannon/OWB Hotels, Port Authority, UPMC Hamot insist on waterfront highway.
10.21.2020 City Councilmembers Liz Allen and Kathleen Schaaf vote against allowing PennDOT to proceed without an Environmental Assessment.
Five City Councilmen vote to proceed w/o Environmental Assessment: Dave Brennan, Ed Brzezinski, Michael Keys, Mel Witherspoon, Jim Winarski
2 MONTHS AGO / Federal Lawsuit
12.15. 2020 On behalf of NAACP and PennFuture, Earth Justice sues PennDOT and FHWA for skipping Environmental Assessment.
Established in 2004, CIVITAS and Connect Urban Erie and educated residents and decision-makers about urban design, adaptive reuse, walkability and connectivity, and the collective impact of these issues on economic development, public health, and social justice.