U.S. gives green light to tunnel under river

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The last piece of the bureaucratic puzzle finally snapped into place for the $435 million North Shore Connector project, a twin-tunnel extension of the Light Rail Transit system under the Allegheny River.

The Federal Transit Administration has committed to funding 80 percent of the cost of the Port Authority project, or $348 million, clearing the way for construction to begin this fall.

The 1.2-mile extension will be the most transit work Downtown has seen since the early 1980s, when Port Authority built the subway. It will take an estimated 41/2 years to complete the construction.

The Port Authority received word on Thursday that the FTA had signed the full-funding agreement after a 60-day review period before Congress.

"This is a major milestone," said Port Authority assistant general manager Henry Nutbrown. "We are elated by receiving the agreement, and also very pleased that the FTA considered the project one of the top priority transit projects around the country."

Motorists and pedestrians will immediately notice workers out surveying the site to create the alignment that designers have set forth, said Mr. Nutbrown.

Sometime in October, the traffic control devices will come out, Mr. Nutbrown said. Cones, barrels and concrete barricades will go up in four primary locations: Reedsdale Street between Heinz Field and Mazeroski Way, General Robinson Street near Mazeroski Way, between the 10th Street Bypass and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, and on Stanwix Street between Penn Avenue and Fort Duquesne Boulevard. Crews will then begin relocating utilities, said Mr. Nutbrown.

Street closures and detours will start in November.

"We will not be disrupting street traffic for 41/2 years," Mr. Nutbrown said. "We're going to be sensitive to the needs of motorists, pedestrians and building owners as we build out this project."

Much of the work will proceed underground, explained Mr. Nutbrown. The 10th Street Bypass and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, parallel routes, will be used as detours for each other while under construction.

Over the next two to three weeks, the Port Authority will be holding a series of informational meetings to help residents and commuters prepare to deal with the massive project.

Construction updates will be available on the Port Authority Web site, said spokesperson Carmen Bray. People will also have the opportunity to sign up to receive electronic news alerts.

In July, the Port Authority awarded the first contract to North Shore Constructors, a joint venture of Trumbull Corp. of West Mifflin and Japan-based Obayashi Corp. The $156.5 million contract covers a large amount of the total project, including boring the two tunnels under the river, lining them with concrete, and a significant amount of excavation Downtown and on the North Shore.

Crews will construct a "launch pit" at the intersection of Mazeroski Way and General Robinson Street, where the tunnel-boring machine will begin its work, Mr. Nutbrown said.

Workers will also need to remove sections of the wall that separates the 10th Street Bypass and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, extracting some of the steel pilings that support the wall. The pilings go down 40 feet into the bedrock, said Mr. Nutbrown, and are partially obstructing the projected route of the tunnel boring machine.

The Port Authority started planning the North Shore Connector in 1999. The cost of the project has swelled recently, increasing by $42 million in a little over a year.

The cost breakdown also includes $72.5 million in state money and $14.5 million from Allegheny County. Port Authority officials hope the North Shore Connector project will spur development, as well as future light-rail extensions between Oakland and the airport.

"We are now well on our way," said Mr. Nutbrown.

Caitlin Cleary can be reached at ccleary@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.


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