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Friday, May 8, 2009

Pittsburgh's North Shore Connector not among the projects receiving the latest Federal Stimulus grants

Hopefully this is the last time I have to bash the North Shore Connector, or the "Bore to the Shore", as the Port Authority refers to it as. Anyone familiar with the Port Authority's North Shore Connector project shouldn't be shocked that it wasn't among the recipients of the latest round of $742 million in Federal Stimulus grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The NSC needs roughly an additional $60 million to complete what was supposed to be a $430 million project, bringing the total cost to around $550 million. The project, once completed, will extend our light rail from downtown and under the Allegheny River to the city's North Shore. The new extension will not touch any residential neighborhoods and will most likely be used primarily to transport people going to Steelers and Pirates games, and eventually the new Casino, from downtown and the South Hills.

The project, in the minds of most people with at least half a brain (Former Mayor Tom Murphy still thinks it was a good idea), is not only a misuse of taxpayer dollars - it is a poster child of boondoggle projects that are thought up by politicians, special interests groups, and businesses (like the Pittsburgh Steelers) that do not add value to the greater public. The real need here in Pittsburgh, for years, has been the Oakland to Downtown light rail link. That project would have not only increased ridership, reduced congestion, and led to more economic development in the uptown area- it would have received a bigger part of the Federal Stimulus dollars that are currently being granted to light rail projects in Virginia (Dulles Airport link to DC Metro), Phoenix, and Denver, and even Utah. Yes, even Utah is building light rail that actually touches neighborhoods where people live.


Anonymous said...

The North Shore connector is a huge waste of money, but the Downtown-Oakland line doesn't seem much better. Those two are reasonably close together and already served by a multitude of buses. It seems like the only point to building a rail is so people can travel between the two without having to brush against the Hill District on their way through.
Two better lines would be between Downtown and the Airport and between Downtown and Monroeville. Both would relieve some of the worst congestion in the city and probably do more to improve air quality than any other possible route.

MH said...

Anything that eased congestion between Monroeville and downtown would just encourage development out past the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and do nothing for the closer neighborhoods.

Also, a multitude of buses is not adequate bus service. Fifth and Forbes are crowded and slow and no bus can avoid that. And the bus service into Oakland from or to the rest of the East End is crowded beyond capacity at rush hour for almost every line. I don't see how you can do anything about Oakland traffic without making it possible for the Pitt/CMU people who live in Squirrel Hill and the like to get into Oakland at rush hour by bus. Before the crowding pushing me back into my car, I'd see crowds left standing on Murray every morning and by CMU every evening.

marco said...

An express rail connection to monroeville would be part of a comprehensive regional rail system and would traverse the 376 corridor. However it is hardly the first priority. I understand your criticism of the North Shore connector however I for one think that any light rail expansion is better than nothing, and it will position them to extend the line out to the airport (for those who think that the north shore is not in the direction of the airport please review a map, preferably a topological one)

The #1 Priority would be a SUBway linking downtown, uptown, oakland, sq hill, and wilkinsburg via forbes ave. This route should not alternatively serve the technology businesses along second ave, beware of this idea, which Mike Doyle has promoted and even suggested we use the bicycle jail-trail right of way for this purpose. A subway would revitalize uptown (not avoid it, Anonymous) and i'm not just making this up, see PAT's "Spine Line Corrider" study.

Schultz said...

I'm in agreement with all of that, Marco. I think the key thing holding up any of these rail projects is financing. I'm going to write a post real soon about one option for local financing of a regional rail and subway network that would provide rail service to the north, west, and eastern ends of Allegheny County.

MH said...

I'd be very curious to see what the options for local financing are. As near as I can tell, being broke is pretty much a constant for all local governments.

Anonymous said...

From what I can see the North Shore Connector was an eminently reasonable idea. Light rail is the way to go if you want a popular transit system; connecting to game and tourism destinations is necessary and makes a meaningful traffic impact; and getting connected to the North Shore is important to the long-term design of a light rail system in Pittsburgh (airport among other things).

Furthermore, with bridges and tunnels/hills as chokepoints, passing light rail through those chokepoints is crucial to mobility; terminating bus routes at the rail on "their side" of the chokepoint is very effective, since people will do bus-rail transfers fairly happily (as opposed to bus-bus transfers). Of course we're talking about a system which doesn't manage to do such transfers with its existing light rail...

They don't seem to have managed the North Shore Connector very well. :-( And, with all the cost risks involved in tunnelling, it seems like it should have been a second priority, not a first.

But this is the city which built busways instead of light rail. Particularly the East Busway. How's that workin' out? The one they're talking about converting into light rail?

Given that the Connector's been largely built, though, it should most certainly be finished, at least up to the first station on the North Shore. Otherwise it's just a waste.

Matthew said...

I agree personally with this post. The North Shore Connector was a bad idea when compared to a path to Oakland. In general, any addition to mass transportation is a move in the right direction. However, while the North Shore connector will primarily transport people going to Steelers and Pirates games from South Hills, many South Hills residents were still using the T to get there anyways. The walk from Wood Street or Gateway Center is short and not a problem, and on any summer night in which a Pirates game is scheduled you will find fans riding the trolley. How many people feel that same way about their trip from the South Hills to Oakland.

Here, light rail from Downtown to Oakland would be able to reach a new group of commuters who plan to travel to a different location. Instead the North Shore connector will generally only transport current riders closer to their destination, or gain a small amount of riders who were not willing to walk due to the distance or inclement weather. A rail line to Oakland would connect South Hills residents to many Oakland cultural attractions and restaurants including such centers for higher education as University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. It would also connect local residents and college students directly to Downtown and the South Hills.

The wrong decision was clearly made with alternate motives in mind. Hopefully, there will be a next time and that the correct decision will be made.