Speeding it up: Bus Rapid Transit plan is given a welcome boost

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Thanks to action by the Port Authority board, plans for a modern, rapid transit system linking Downtown and Oakland can keep moving forward, with the goal of winning significant federal funding to help pay for the improvements.

For too long, Allegheny County’s approach to rapid transit has been anything but rapid. Now, though, with an aggressive push by county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and parallel interest from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, the idea for what’s been proposed as a Bus Rapid Transit system seems less likely to languish on the drawing board.

The transit agency board amended its budget at a special meeting on Tuesday so $1.56 million would go toward preliminary engineering and environmental reviews for the project. That’s in addition to $440,000 it previously committed, plus $1 million from Allegheny County. Another $1 million will be needed to complete the studies.

BRT systems in other cities run sleek, rubber-tire vehicles that resemble light-rail cars on existing roads, with stops that are farther apart than traditional routes, have pay stations on elevated platforms and typically get priority when entering busy intersections. All of this cuts the length of trips.

Technical studies are necessary to consider how a system could be configured and all of the options to be included. Electric vehicles should remain part of the discussion as the Port Authority attempts to move into a modern era of mass transit.

Once its preliminary studies are complete, the Port Authority will be in a position to apply in August 2016 for federal funding. Rapid transit between Oakland and Downtown is still a long way off, but the latest funding commitment was a fundamental step.

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