Former city councilman pushes for Erie Lightway project
ERIE, Pa. (AP) — The plan would refurbish downtown railroad underpasses with new paint, landscaping and a multicolored lighting system.
David Brennan first pitched the idea in 2016, while still a member of Erie City Council.
At first, it focused on the railroad underpass on Peach Street, just south of West 14th Street — a dark, decaying area that serves as a gateway to the city’s entertainment and business districts.
Brennan, an architect and director of the Erie office of Bostwick Design Partnership, proposed refurbishing the underpass with new paint, landscaping and a multicolored lighting system to create a vibrant connection to the city’s downtown.
As the plan progressed, Brennan proposed sprucing up nearby railroad overpasses along State, Sassafras and French streets as well, all on the same CSX railroad line.
Birmingham, Ala., Buffalo and Cleveland have launched similar projects.
Two years later, Brennan is still pushing forward with the plan.
Brennan and Todd Scalise of Higherglyphics, an Erie public relations firm, have developed a concept plan for what’s being called “The Erie Lightway,” which has been presented to Mayor Joe Schember and other local leaders.
“Through the use of state-of-the-art LED lighting, four downtown railroad overpasses could be transformed into a solution for what is a simple, and, at the same time, complex dilemma. ... Bringing people together,” according to a project description on the Erie Lightway’s Facebook page.
Brennan said he is working to raise money for the project, which could cost “several million dollars. Painting the underpasses alone would probably cost between $300,000 and $500,000 each.”
Ideally, the project would be finished within the next three to four years, Brennan said. But that’s all contingent on securing funding.
“We’re looking at public-private partnerships, grants, everything,” Brennan continued. “We have to do this. These are all gateways to the central business district of downtown and if we don’t make them better, they will continue to be eyesores.”
In addition to Facebook, a Twitter page about the project has been launched, and details of the project can also be found at www.erielightway.org.
CSX officials have previously said that any group or agency behind the Erie Lightway would have to enter into an agreement with CSX to address issues such as maintenance and liability.
Scalise said he is the “creative director” of the project, designing the master plan with Brennan. He also pointed out that Higherglyphics, 1001 State St. Suite 1123, has previously worked on public art projects in the city.
“Primarily we’re trying to unify the built environment that exists right now,” Scalise said. “It’s obvious that we have areas of our downtown that need to be renovated. My concern is making it attractive for Erie. These overpasses are really an eyesore, there’s safety issues, walkability issues in the winter.
“I really see this as an opportunity for renovation and a lot of return on investment,” Scalise said.
So does Schember.
“As far as I’m concerned, it can’t start quickly enough,” Schember said of the project.
Schember added that he would be willing to explore city funding for the effort. “It creates a more welcoming environment for the downtown,” Schember said.
Schember recently visited Birmingham’s LightRails project, the refurbishing of a long-neglected art deco railroad underpass built in 1931. The area links that city’s downtown and what’s known as Railroad Park, 19 acres of green space, lakes and streams in Birmingham that hosts recreational and cultural events, family activities and concerts.
LightRails features a network of computerized LED lights installed to create various lighting patterns in the underpass. The Erie Lightway would be similar, with bright, energy-efficient bulbs of various colors that can be programmed to change as the occasion or season warrants.
“It’s pretty expensive. It’s not cheap to do, and there’s a lot of money that needs to be raised,” Schember said. “But the city is fully supportive of this.”
Jim Berlin is founder and chief executive of Logistics Plus, located in Union Station next to the Peach Street underpass. Berlin also supports the project.
“Anything that can brighten up downtown is a good thing,” Berlin said. “It would make the area brighter and more welcoming and more accessible.”
Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com