Pittsburgh-area officials envision rapid transit development

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Along Fifth and Forbes avenues that connect Oakland and Squirrel Hill to Downtown, officials from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County envision a fully developed corridor with spaces freshened up by public art and new infrastructure, connected by a rapid transit bus in a dedicated lane.

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald boarded a not-so-rapid shuttle to tour the neighborhoods that could see both the impact and the benefit of a Bus Rapid Transit system and to discuss potential stops. They were joined by Port Authority of Allegheny County officials and city Councilmen R. Daniel Lavelle and Dan Gilman, who represent Uptown and Shadyside, respectively.

The project will cost an estimated $200 million and will need the underwriting of a highly competitive federal grant to move forward. And despite the fact that many of the details are far from concrete, Mr. Fitzgerald said Tuesday that he believes the system could be complete within “three to four years.”

Mr. Peduto said study after study has been done to determine the best way to connect Downtown and Oakland, both hubs of development and employment. Ideas for a trolley or light rail system have been thrown around, but officials now seem poised to move ahead with the Bus Rapid Transit.

“What we have now is an opportunity to connect Oakland to Downtown … with a Bus Rapid Transit system … and do it within the next several year or try to continue to study it,” he said. “I really hope that we don’t let perfect be the enemy of progress.”

But Pittsburgh is not in the position to offer any substantial investments for the project, he said, except perhaps through special tax increment financing deals. Under such arrangements, the city floats a bond to pay for infrastructure and then the bond is repaid by a portion of the property taxes generated by the development.

Some of the locations being explored for stops include Carnegie Mellon University, Consol Energy Center and the Birmingham Bridge in Uptown. What route the BRT will take is also under discussion. Mr. Peduto said he would like to see a system that uses both Fifth and Forbes avenues, since both corridors could use the investment a BRT system would bring.

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.

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