Steelers fear casino traffic on game days

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The Steelers want to see a more detailed study of the traffic impact of the proposed Majestic Star casino, particularly as it relates to game days and other big events on the North Shore.

Steelers President Art Rooney said today the study done by PITG Gaming LLC, the casino operator, did not analyze the impact the slots palace would have on game day traffic at Heinz Field or PNC Park. He viewed that as a serious flaw, given the difficulties the Steelers experience moving traffic during home games.

During a meeting with the Post-Gazette editorial board, Mr. Rooney said the Steelers would object to the approval of the casino master plan by the city planning commission until the issue had been addressed. The planning commission is scheduled to vote on the master plan May 1.

"There's a whole different picture on the North Shore that needs to be looked at," he said.

Mr. Rooney also said there's a need to analyze the impact the casino will have on the regional highway system, including ramps and bridges leading to the West End and the North Shore. He said the Majestic Star study was more localized and did not look at the interstate system.

"We are prepared to go and object to an approval [by the planning commission] at this point," he said. "We don't think it should be approved without a much more thorough study of the traffic and, obviously, an analysis of what it's going to take to fix the problem."

He estimated that it could cost "tens of millions of dollars" to make the improvements necessary to mitigate the impact. The Steelers also believe there's a need to form a working group similar to one convened before Heinz Field and PNC Park opened to address traffic issues. Handling that through the 39-member gaming implementation task force formed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato could be unwieldly, he said, although he added it is conceivable that a subcommittee could address such issues.

Mr. Rooney said the Steelers are willing to work with businessman Don Barden, who heads PITG Gaming, to resolve traffic-related issues. The team has hired its own consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to assist on traffic-related issues.

While an analysis conceivably could show the mix of traffic "might be a workable solution" when Steeler games start at 1 p.m. on Sundays, that won't be known until a study has been done, Mr. Rooney said. He added 1 p.m. starts are becoming less common for the team. It will play five night home games this year, two during the preseason and three during the regular season. He said he was also concerned about the impact on Saturday Pitt games.

PITG Gaming spokesman Bob Oltmanns said the casino's traffic study did take into account the impact on the regional highway system, including the West End Bridge. He wasn't sure whether it analyzed game day traffic. However, he pointed out that Mr. Barden has committed to making about $10 million in improvements to intersections and roads near the casino.

He added he didn't hear anything from Mr. Rooney's remarks "that already hasn't been discussed in great detail before the gaming control board. We have acknowledged the need for some highway and roadway improvements that Mr. Barden has since day one been willing to pay for at no cost to taxpayers," he said.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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