Plan for Bus Rapid Transit system takes next step forward
March 10, 2017 10:22 PM
An artist's rendering showing how the planned Bus Rapid Transit system might run through Uptown.
The city, Allegheny County and Port Authority said on Thursday that they are filing a federal application for the Bus Rapid Transit system to shuttle passengers between Downtown and Oakland.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It’s called Bus Rapid Transit, but officials say the proposal unveiled Thursday to use electric vehicles between Downtown and Oakland would address an array of issues that include neighborhood renewal, traffic management, bike lanes, air pollution and storm water management.
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Port Authority say the $200 million to $240 million project is taking a kitchen-sink approach that they hope will make it more attractive to the Federal Transit Administration, which they want to provide half of the funding. The rest of the funding would come from the state and local government.
“We feel very confident,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “This proposal really meets an awful lot of the goals we have for this region.”
Officials have been in regular contact with federal and state officials about elements that would be reviewed favorably if they were included in the project.
Mr. Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the project is vital to the region because it would link the second- and third-busiest business corridors in the state. Continued growth requires better transportation links between the two areas, they said.
Mr. Peduto said the reason the proposal calls for Bus Rapid Transit rather that an underground light-rail system is simple: BRT would cost a maximum of $240 million and could be completed by 2021, and light rail would cost upward of $3 billion and take at least 15 years to complete.
The proposal was developed by Justin Miller, principal transportation planner for the city, and Amy Silbermann, senior analyst in the Port Authority’s department of planning and evaluation, in conjunction with consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and CDM Smith Inc. They expect to hold public meetings to decide issues such as service options and station locations before submitting the funding application by September.
If the project moves forward, the biggest transformation could be in the Uptown area between Downtown and Oakland. The proposal calls for completely rebuilding Forbes and Fifth avenues “back to the building fronts” with new, tree-lined sidewalks, ornamental lighting and dedicated lanes for transit, regular motorists and bicyclists.
That would dovetail with plans being developed for the Uptown Eco-Innovation District, which would encourage green-friendly development in the neighborhood in an effort to make it self-sustaining. That part of the neighborhood, known as The Bluff, extends from Duquesne University to Oakland between Forbes Avenue and the Boulevard of the Allies.
Pollution would be reduced by switching from diesel buses to electric vehicles. That could be particularly helpful in that neighborhood, which Mr. Miller said previously has among the highest air pollution readings in the city because of 19 lanes of traffic between Fifth Avenue and the Monongahela River.
In addition, traffic would move more efficiently by reducing the number of vehicles on the roads and the use of smart traffic signals developed at Carnegie Mellon University. Using the signals — which were part of the city’s unsuccessful effort to win a $50 million Smart Cities Challenge grant last year — would reduce the time vehicles spend idling in traffic jams.
The project also would improve traffic flow by redesigning the pinch point where Forbes Avenue enters Oakland and Sixth Avenue as it comes out of Downtown to Fifth and Forbes avenues. The electric vehicles would use those corridors, but other motorists would benefit from the improvements as well.
The project also would help to address the region’s storm water management problem, which has the federal Environmental Protection Agency threatening sanctions if sewer overflows of raw sewage aren’t significantly reduced. Part of the reconstruction of Fifth and Forbes avenues through Uptown would include storm sewer improvements as well as other water reduction efforts.
The project now moves to its more public portion, with meetings for community groups and the general public to decide where the electric vehicles should travel in Oakland and if service should end in Oakland or extend to other neighborhoods such as Highland Park, Wilkinsburg and Squirrel Hill.
Mr. Peduto made clear which service option he prefers: extending Bus Rapid Transit to the Wilkinsburg/Homewood area via the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway and linking those disadvantaged areas to job centers without substantially increasing costs, he said.
“I want to do it all,” the mayor said. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it all.”
Ed Blazina: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1470.
Correction, posted March 10, 2017: Parsons Brinckerhoff is the city, county and Port Authority consultant for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system in Pittsburgh. Another company was incorrectly listed as the consultant in a story Friday.
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