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Friday, February 29, 2008

A terrible idea for Pittsburgh's Eastern Corridor - and some better alternatives

Last night on KDKA radio I heard of a proposal put forth by Pennsylvania turnpike commission CEO Joe Brimmeier that was downright ludicrous. Brimmeier recommend that the PA department of Transportation (the infamous PenDOT) build an elevated toll road above of the current park way east to alleviate the worst congestion in this the area - the parkway east's approach to the Squirrel Hill tunnel. Now, I have had some fantasies of my own for regional transit but this just tops the cake. I was surprised to see that the Post Gazette actually put this story on the front of their web page - as I felt this idea was not worthy enough to print.

After the tunnel, or chunnel, to nowhere (The north shore connector), we do not have room for any boondoggle transit projects - especially a highway on top of another highway which would do nothing to improve our region's air quality.

Before I even heard of this I was thought of another congestion alleviation option for the eastern corridor as I was driving from the North Shore over to East Liberty earlier that day. While looking at the Martin Luther King, Jr. East busway I noticed that there was not one vehicle on the busway - which means that there should be enough room for additional vehicle traffic. So why don't we utilize the east busway to alleviate some of the congestion at the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and parkway east??? The busway already exists and is basically empty with the exceptions of the buses that utilize it throughout the day. The one concern I see them raising is that the busway is also utilized by emergency personal and also VIPs like the mayor (ha!) if they need to be evacuated from downtown.

My short term alternative is the following:

Use the existing busway as an express toll road for cars. Buses and cars would have to share the road but it would be much faster than the current alternatives. Also, there have been some studies underway to extend the busway from Swissvale out to Monroeville, which means a toll road would make a lot of sense. This would kill two birds with one stone - it would alleviate congestion and also raise funds for the port authority. Note to the Port Authority - people will pay tolls to not sit in traffic each and everyone morning and evening during their commute!

Now, a study to analyze the bus way and other eastern corridor transit options
was completed back in 2003, but unfortunately the people who should be making the decisions on the recommendations take forever to come up with a plan to implement the solutions. The recommendations coming out of that study are good ones - but with the exception of the 1st alternative I haven't heard of any action for the other options, which are the following:

Allegheny Valley Commuter Rail: Downtown Pittsburgh to Arnold

  • Commuter Rail service along the southern shore of the Allegheny River via the Allegheny Valley Railroad right-of-way
My comment: After years of studies and mulling of this project, a second feasible study is underway. Good grief - more studies and reports with little or nothing to show for it! My colleague at work said he would "definitely take a train" that would take him into downtown from his home in New Kensingtion and help him avoid the congestion on Route 28.

Norfolk Southern Commuter Rail:

  • Commuter Rail service along the Norfolk Southern right-of-way via East Pittsburgh, Irwin, etc., possible extension to Latrobe.
My comment: If we could pull off a commuter rail to downtown from all the way out to Greensburg I say go for it! The tracks are already there to the only question is the right of way from Norfolk Southern. This rail would be a much better option than any expressway and much cheaper than the high speed Maglev train that was proposed a long time ago.

SpineLine Light Rail/BRT: Downtown to Oakland and points East

  • Light Rail along city streets (underground or at-grade) to Oakland with extension along city streets to Wilkinsburg or along CSX right-of-way to Hazelwood and Homestead
  • Bus Rapid Transit on city streets
My comment: This is long over due and should have been implemented in the 90's had it not been killed by the county commissioners, who I fault for not having a vision for growing the region through world class transit infrastructure. Chris Briem has a SpineLine study over at his website.

East Busway Extension: Swissvale to East Pittsburgh or Monroeville

  • Extension of the East Busway along Norfolk Southern right-of-way to East Pittsburgh, with the possibility of using Tri-Boro or Mon-Fayette Expressway into Monroeville.
My Comment: My problem with just extending the busway to Monroeville and keeping it exclusively as a bus only expressway is that a lot of people do not like to ride buses. An ideal option would have been to turn it into a light railway but I guess that project did not make the cut. So, the busway as both a toll road and bus expressway makes a lot more sense since it could be implemented within months of this blog post - and within a few years extended out to Monroeville. In my opinion, right now with bus only transport the expressway is vastly underutilized.

Mon Valley Light Rail: Downtown Pittsburgh to McKeesport and Etna along the CSX right-of-way.

  • Light Rail service underground from Steel Plaza to Convention Center, along the Allegheny Valley Railroad right-of-way to 33rd Street and two branches from 33rd street along CSX right-of-way to Etna and to McKeesport via Oakland, Hazelwood and the northern/eastern shore of the Monongahela River.
My Comment: I'm not sure about this one - if the new north shore alternative for the Mon Fayette Expressway is ever completed then I don't see this project happening - although I would prefer this rail line as it would take more cars off the road.

It is time we start pushing some of these ideas forward rather than sit around and hope for these solutions to fall into place. Which options do you like? Do you have some additional ideas?


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