Pittsburgh’s Hill District is set for an $11.3 million injection into its aging infrastructure systems, which officials say will improve accessibility for residents and help connect the neighborhood’s lower, middle, and upper subsections.
The neighborhood is one of 166 communities across the country selected for the federal RAISE Grants program that has this year channeled a total of $2.2 billion to infrastructure projects.
“It's going to help us a long way to try to reconnect this community and to get them connected to the things that are going on around them,” says Jake Wheatley, chief of staff for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, in an interview with Pittsburgh City Paper.
"I think it's going to be significant."
Wheatley says details for how the money will be spent are still under development but notes they will go to a range of needed infrastructure upgrades, including roads, sidewalks, utilities, and drainage, and ensuring the neighborhood is accessible for disabled residents. The projects will cluster around targeted areas where investment is most needed, Wheatley adds.
Beyond meeting immediate community needs, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle tells City Paper these investments are intended to spur further local development.
“We knew if we were successful in reconnecting the Hill District to Downtown Pittsburgh, that that was going to lead to more investment here,” Doyle says. “Well, in order to have investment here, you’ve got to be able to get here; the infrastructure has to be such that it's conducive to businesses locating here and employing people.”
To secure the competitive funds, Doyle says a delegation of local officials traveled to Washington D.C. to put their proposal directly in front of the transportation secretary. He says as part of their pitch, the Pittsburgh leaders discussed their responsibility to right past wrongs with respect to redevelopment efforts in the Hill District.
The Hill is a historically Black neighborhood in Pittsburgh that was partially bulldozed in the 1950s under a city-led urban renewal campaign. Many Hill residents still express pain as a result of the redevelopment programming, and some have made calls for reparations, as reported in Black Pittsburgh.
“We really pressed for this project and told them why it was important,” Doyle says.
Marimba Milliones, president of the Hill Community Development Corporation, tells City Paper the influx of federal monies reflects years of planning by community stakeholders assembled as the Hill District Commercial Redevelopment Task Force. Some of the federal grant spending will, Milliones says, help advance an existing masterplan developed for the greater Hill District community.
“Over the years, we've had thousands of residents participating in these processes,” Milliones says. “And it's the work of the CDC to continue to carry that message forward on a consistent basis.”