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Category Archive: Transportation

  1. $500K to fund feasibility study of commuter rail

    Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Rich Cholodofsky
    Friday, August 17, 2007

    Efforts to start commuter rail service from Arnold into Pittsburgh keep chugging along as county transit officials this week received a $500,000 state grant to study whether the project is feasible.
    Officials announced Thursday they likely will hire a consultant later this year to determine whether there are enough potential riders to justify rail service as well as peg cost estimates for the project.

    The Westmoreland County Transit Authority is exploring a two-phase project that would offer commuter rail service between Arnold to the Strip District and Latrobe to downtown Pittsburgh.

    “We want to get this study done as quickly as we can, maybe within a year,” said authority Executive Director Larry Morris. “Then a decision to go forward or not will be made.”

    The state grant will pay for the feasibility study. Transit officials have been waiting for nearly six months for the money.
    In the meantime, plans for the commuter rail project have been tweaked as officials moved to extend the proposed Greensburg-to-Pittsburgh line eastward toward Latrobe.

    “It made sense to extend it out to Latrobe because Latrobe has a train station that has been remodeled and is being used now by Amtrak,” Morris said. “It only made sense to extend it out a little bit.”

    Commuter service from Westmoreland County to Pittsburgh was a top recommendation of a study completed last year by a regional planning agency that explored improving transportation needs in the region.

    The proposed rail line from Arnold to Pittsburgh’s Strip District would stop in New Kensington, Oakmont, Verona and Lawrenceville. It would utilize existing train tracks.

    Projected costs for the Arnold line are about $140 million.

    By initial estimates, the proposed Allegheny Valley rail line would service as many as 6,700 daily riders making the 34-minute commute.

    Initial plans suggested the proposed Latrobe-Greensburg line could use existing tracks and train stations. It would include stops in Jeannette, Irwin, Trafford, Wilmerding, East Pittsburgh, Braddock, Swissvale and Wilkinsburg.

    Early cost estimates ranged from $190 million for a limited-service system to a more ambitious $300 million line that would operate every 30 minutes during peak commuting times.

    Preliminary studies have indicated that the more expensive system could carry about 8,800 passengers every day for the 49-minute trip between Greensburg and downtown Pittsburgh.

    Transit officials learned earlier this year that for the first time there is a pool of money available to pay for the rail projects.

    As part of the comprehensive state transportation bill approved in July by state lawmakers, $50 million a year was allocated to finance commuter rail projects throughout the state.

    Rich Cholodofsky can be reached at or 724-837-0240.

  2. Historic groups see opportunity in Rt. 28 project

    Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 01, 2007
    By Diana Nelson Jones,
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    As the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation begins its final design plans to widen and upgrade Route 28, several organizations are working with PennDot to not only preserve the oldest existing Roman Catholic Croatian church building in the country, but also to beautify the entrance to Troy Hill and attract tourists.

    The St. Nicholas Church, unused since 2004, is at the heart of the efforts of Preservation Pittsburgh and the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation. They want to turn the 106-year old church into a national shrine and museum to tell the story of the original St. Nicholas, the model for Santa Claus, and the story of the Croatian community that was established in the neighborhood.

    “We’re trying to make the church a destination and to find a way to make this venture financially practical,” said Jack Schmitt, a board member of Preservation Pittsburgh.

    One of the earliest Croatian settlements in the country grew up along the canal that used to parallel the river and provide a means for Allegheny City — which became the North Side after Pittsburgh annexed it in 1907 — to receive goods off-loaded from the Allegheny River. It is a history few Pittsburghers know, “but it was one of the greatest things that happened,” said Mr. Schmitt. “It was key to Pittsburgh’s development.”

    He said the preservation effort began seven years ago “to save all the green hillsides and homes and mitigate the loss of historic fabric” along the North Side portal. The group has since accepted that it will lose many structures along the 21/2-mile section between the 16th Street Bridge and the Millvale interchange.

    A collection of nonprofits are lined up to complement PennDot’s redesign, including the Riverlife Task Force, Friends of the Riverfront, and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

    “As a North Sider, I looked at the possibilities and thought, ‘Hey, this is the entrance [to the neighborhood],” said Mr. Schmitt, a resident of Allegheny West. “We can have walls with bolts sticking out of them or we can do something creative and save some of our history. It would be interesting and uplifting. If we don’t do something good, we’ll have to live with what is done.”

    Goals include connecting the Allegheny River trail, via its footpath across the highway, to a green space that would run from the Pennsylvania Brewing Co. at Troy Hill and Finial streets to the church; to provide access to the church from the roadway; and to present the area’s history by posting canal stones and interpretive plaques along the river trail.

    The road redesign will be a compromise of green space and concrete, but the retaining walls present an opportunity, he said. The preservation groups have asked PennDot to imitate the lock stone walls of the old canal that once followed the same course as the road. They also propose bronze outlines of canal boats against the wall as a whimsical experience for Route 28 travelers.

    Dan Cessna, PennDot’s district executive, said the canal boats would have to be paid for by state enhancement funds, not from the Route 28 redesign budget, if PennDot approves their installation.

    “We haven’t investigated to determine whether it would be feasible from a safety standpoint,” he said. “We haven’t determined the exact limits of rights of way.” He said PennDot wants the result “to look pleasing” and would consider the suggested hillside plantings and stone wall texture of the old canal.

    In one of many options in its most recent design report, PennDot proposes to regrade the church parking lot to be level with Route 28 and to expand the road “primarily to the east to minimize hillside impacts.”

    Arthur Ziegler of Landmarks said that though “nothing is definite, we are interested” in creating the interpretive plaques. “They would tell the physical history of the area, and it’s a history of transportation — canal, railroad, river and road.”

    Other stories could include those of Indian trails and settlements, George Washington’s crossing, Herr’s Island, canal houses, the Croatian community, and the Heinz and Pittsburgh Wool factories.

    Mr. Ziegler said Landmarks has been “very interested in saving [the church], and we like the idea that it might be a Croatian shrine. We were involved in getting a roadway to access the church with parking.”

    In March, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh had all religious objects removed from the church, as canon requires. The Follieri Group of New York City has a sales agreement to buy the church, said Victor Kamber, a Follieri spokesman. “We should close within the month.”

    Mr. Kamber said the Follieri Group has been in contact with the preservationists and expects to lease the church back to them.

    “We’re sort of excited about their plans and hope they will be able to” make them succeed, he said.

    The Follieri Group, a real-estate development company, targets unused Catholic churches for preservation, said Mr. Kamber, “rather than see them destroyed or developed as something that isn’t representative of the community.”

    (Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1626. )

  3. Retiree’s volunteer efforts put her on right track at History & Landmarks

    Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Sandra Fischione Donovan
    Sunday, February 25, 2007

    Judith Harvey lives in a historic house in Fineview, so she is a history buff by association. When she retired and was looking for a channel for her unbounded energy, it seemed natural for her to volunteer in 2001 for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
    The association proved fortuitous for both. The former librarian, who retired from the Baldwin-Whitehall School District after 35 years of teaching and doing library work in public schools, was in the foundation offices when she saw boxes full of railroad memorabilia collected by the late Frank B. Fairbanks, of South Park.

    Undaunted by the prospect, the peppy, petite and fair-haired Harvey volunteered to catalog it all. Foundation officials agreed.

    Some of the tasks, such as putting thousands of railroad tickets in separate plastic sleeves, would take her years. But Harvey patiently did that and even computerized the collection.

    “She’s a remarkable woman,” says Albert Tannler, the foundation’s historical collections director.
    “Because of her meticulous volunteer work, we were able to open it to the public,” says Louise Sturgess, PH&LF executive director.

    “Her ability to organize a massive amount of information and present it to the public in a pleasing way is amazing,” Sturgess says.

    The Frank B. Fairbanks Rail Transportation Archive opened last month at the History & Landmarks offices in Station Square. And Harvey has a new title: railroad librarian. She works at the archive one day a week.

    Though she wasn’t a railroad buff to begin with, having gone through every tiny detail of Fairbanks’ collection has enabled Harvey to glean much about railroads and the people that love them.

    “A rail buff can tell you how many repeat miles he’s traveled, but the real number is how many new miles you’ve traveled,” Harvey says. “If a rail line is reconfigured — oh, the joy of adding a tenth of a mile.”

    As Fairbanks traveled, the chief executive officer of Stowe-based Horix Manufacturing Corp. not only noted his rail miles, he collected timetables and rail orders for engineers, handfuls of swizzle sticks railroads gave out to patrons to stir martinis and playing cards available in club cars, among many other items.

    His collection lay in boxes in his South Park home until he met Jack Miller, History & Landmarks director of planned giving. Fairbanks subsequently donated part of his collection to the foundation, along with a $10,000 endowment to maintain it.

    “We wouldn’t have taken it if it didn’t come with an endowment,” Tannler says.

    After Fairbanks died in 2005 at age 74, his widow donated the rest of his extensive collection to History & Landmarks.

    “The strengths and weaknesses of a private collection are evident in this,” says Harvey. “When you’re dealing with a private collection, you’re taking what they collected” for their own immediate goals.

    Harvey says rail buffs will be thrilled with the collection, which includes official railroad timetables ranging from the 1800s until 1976; train orders engineers used for each trip; reference books on railroads; slides Fairbanks took and all those tickets.

    A sign in the archive notes that Fairbanks was “clearly recognized as the third-ranking American with the most route miles traveled,” and was most likely the third-ranking such person in the world. He traveled 156,993.81 new miles and 7,841.47 duplicate miles.

    The maps Fairbanks collected are Harvey’s favorite items. She has placed them in Mylar covers so researchers can readily handle them. “I’m not a hands-off librarian,” she says.

    “Nothing was dirty or torn. He was very respectful of what he had,” Harvey says.

    Tribune-Review Publisher Richard M. Scaife was impressed enough with the collection on a recent visit to ask Harvey whether she wanted several metal railroad signs he owned for the archive.

    “You never ask a librarian if she wants anything,” Harvey says with a smile, pointing to the signs, which are now in the collection. Each red metal sign marked a different rail line for engineers.

    The archive is in a sunny room with tall windows facing the Monongahela River. New and antique furniture is arranged for reading, research and perusal of railroad objects.

    Hours for the collection are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Wednesdays by appointment, so that Harvey is sure to be on hand to guide visitors through the collection. Members may use the archive for free; nonmembers pay a fee of $10 for three consecutive visits.

    “It has a lot of information that will be very important,” Tannler says. “People who know railroads feel that we have an asset.”

    Sturgess says the transportation collection has further established the foundation’s archives, including its James D. Van Trump Library of regional architectural history, as a “top-notch collection” of historical resources.

    “I am very happy at Landmarks, and hope to be able to serve those interested in railroad materials for a long time to come,” Harvey says. “I count it a privilege to do this for pay. I count the days till I come in the next time.”

    People who wish to use the Frank B. Fairbanks Jr. Railroad Collection may call the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation on Wednesdays to make an appointment with Judith Harvey at 412-471-5808, ext. 542, or e-mail

  4. Bridges for sale — really

    Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy staff and wire reports
    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    Con artists have tried to sell the Brooklyn Bridge for years, but now two bridges in Pennsylvania really are for sale. First, PennDOT wants to sell the West Hickory Bridge on State Route 0127 over the Allegheny River in Hickory, Forest County. The bridge, 695 feet long and 16 feet wide, was built in 1896 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Interested? Call 1-814-678-7008. Also, Nyleve Bridge Corp. wants to sell its 467-foot-long temporary structure that once took the Norfolk Southern Railroad across State Route 309, near the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Fort Washington Exit, Montgomery County. The steel bridge is being replaced by a permanent bridge. Call 1-610-965-3083 for details.

  5. Saving the North Shore Connector: The Port Authority should no longer reject crossing the Allegheny by using an existing bridge

    George R. White
    Tuesday, February 28, 2006

    Though its leaders are trying to be optimistic, the Port Authority is scrambling to keep the North Shore Connector alive. The plan to extend light-rail transit to North Shore stadiums was dealt a setback this month: Bids for building tunnels under the Allegheny River were way over budget once again. This follows the Port Authority’s effort to scale back the project by deferring the Steel Plaza spur to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

    It doesn’t have to be this hard. The Port Authority can save the project — and still extend the LRT to the convention center — by making one simple and logical change: Nix the tunnels and, instead, cross the Allegheny on the existing Fort Wayne railroad bridge beside the center.

    The route would run from Gateway Station and occupy the outer two lanes of the 10th Street Bypass. (The inner two lanes remain for motor vehicles.) Approaching the convention center, the tracks would be elevated to create a station at the center itself. The LRT would then cross the river on the lower deck of the railroad bridge.

    The savings from no tunnels — $87 million to $112 million — would be enough to afford a worthwhile extension into the Strip District, perhaps as far as 28th Street.

    Once across the river, the LRT could use a cut-and-cover tunnel for the length of the North Shore spine — General Robinson Street — with five stations: the Alcoa building, North Shore Garage, PNC Park, the new West General Robinson Street Garage and Heinz Field. The current Port Authority plan has only two stations: the new parking garage and Heinz Field at Allegheny Avenue.

    The risk in making changes to the existing North Shore Connector plan is that the crucial Federal Transit Administration funds might be allocated to other projects in other cities. But certainly our representative and senators could argue that the bridge alternative meets the key FTA objective — displacing commuter auto congestion — much better. A station at 28th Street in the outer Strip District would be ideal as a park-and-ride, serving the many commuters from Allegheny Valley suburbs. All the North Shore parking sites along General Robinson would have superb LRT access to all Golden Triangle workplaces.

    I have for many years advocated the bridge alternative, much to the dismay of the Port Authority. Let’s hope that its new leader will be sensible. Plainly put, it’s cheaper and better than the tunnels. Do it!

    George R. White is former director of the Transportation Systems Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. He lives Downtown.

  6. PennDOT to unveil new Rt. 28 plans

    By Joe Grata,
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    Forty-three years after the idea was broached, and at least as many meetings and plans later, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has yet another design for rebuilding the hazardous, traffic-clogged stretch of Route 28/East Ohio Street between the North Side and Millvale.

    Engineers will reveal the latest proposal for the two-mile stretch at a series of three public meetings beginning Monday.

    Until then, they’re keeping it a secret.

    In response to a request for details, PennDOT District 11 spokesman Jim Struzzi responded, in part:

    “Given the sensitive nature of the issues surrounding the project, we would rather people hear it from us in detail at the meeting(s) where immediate questions and concerns can be addressed.

    “We will be presenting a new alternative that we hope balances the many interests of stakeholders involved.”

    The design is expected to reflect the work of a special task force PennDOT formed after the last public meetings in June 2004, when residents, the city and others objected to 12 previous designs and an “Alternative 13,” a hybrid presented for the first time.

    The public-private collaboration consists of two dozen interested parties, including Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, the Washington’s Landing Homeowners Association, Mount Troy Citizens Council, Pittsburgh Planning Department and, because of indecision about the future of historic St. Nicholas Church, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

    The design of the “missing link” connecting the city to the rest of Route 28 and the Allegheny Valley Expressway has been complicated by a narrow shelf of land between Troy Hill and railroad rights of way, interchanges with the 31st Street and 40th Street bridges and environmental issues.

    At the last update, PennDOT officials said they wanted to keep the maximum $180 million project on track for a fall 2008 groundbreaking.

    Once under way, construction is expected to take four years and inconvenience drivers of more than 60,000 cars and trucks a day.

    The region’s four-year Transportation Improvement Program that sets federal highway funding priorities provides $5 million for more pre-engineering, $4 million for final design, $1.6 million for utility relocation, $17 million for property acquisition and $8 million in 2008 to start the construction on time.

    Monday’s public meeting will be from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Teamsters Temple in the 4700 block of Butler Street, Lawrenceville. PennDOT will make formal presentations at 4:30 and 6 p.m., with engineers and consultants on hand to explain maps and answer questions during intervening periods.

    The same format will be used for meetings from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania, 337 Fourth Ave., Downtown, and from 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Holiday Inn at the RIDC Park in Harmar.

    (Joe Grata can be reached at or 412-263-1985.)

    This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

  7. Diocese has faith in preservation spirit

    By Tony LaRussa
    Monday, October 3, 2005

    When the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese agrees to close church buildings, the decision helps keep parishes from being saddled with buildings they can no longer afford to maintain.

    But the closing of a church often raises a red flag for people who want to save historically or architecturally significant buildings from the wrecking ball.

    In the future, local church officials will collaborate with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to find ways to serve the mission of both organizations.

    An agreement announced recently by foundation President Arthur Ziegler Jr. calls for the diocese to give his organization first crack at buying a church that is closed. If the foundation passes on the purchase, it will assist in finding a new use for the building.

    The foundation also will provide tax credits and other benefits if a historic designation helps the buyer of a church building adapt it for another use. The diocese also agreed to accept the plaques the Landmarks Foundation places on buildings with historic or architectural significance.

    “This agreement is a realization that while we may have different missions, there is a shared goal that we can work together on,” said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese.

    “Church buildings are closed for a number of reasons, such as the loss of population we’ve experienced in the region and shifts in where people are living,” Lengwin said. “Our first priority is to serve the needs of people, not put our resources in maintaining buildings we no longer need. At the same time, we are sensitive to the significance of historic religious properties.”

    The diocese currently does not plan to close any churches that would be affected by this agreement, said Lengwin, who will serve as a consultant on the planning committee when the National Trust for Historic Preservation has its annual conference in Pittsburgh next year. Lengwin is expected to participate in a session on the challenges of reusing historic religious properties during that conference.

    For its part, the Landmarks Foundation will agree not to nominate buildings owned by the diocese to either the National Register or the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission without the church’s consent.

    In 2001, preservationists essentially prevented the diocese from selling St. Nicholas Church along Route 28 in the North Side to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for a highway-widening project by securing a historic designation from the city.

    St. Nicholas, home to the first Croatian parish in the United States, was closed last year. The diocese is working with Croatian fraternal organizations to possibly use the building or convert the former church into a shrine. PennDOT has altered its design for Route 28 to avoid the need to raze the church.

    In 2003, the diocese successfully lobbied the city to exclude all active churches from being nominated as historic structures by anyone except the owner. The change, however, does not apply to church buildings that are closed.

    Being placed on the National Register affects the alterations the owner of a property can make to the exterior of a building when federal funding is involved.

    But the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission must approve all exterior changes to city-designated historic buildings and buildings located in one of a dozen city historic districts. The agreement between the Landmarks Foundation and the diocese does not prevent another preservation group or an individual from nominating a closed church building.

    Ziegler praised the pact, saying it could serve as a model for historic preservation of religious buildings in other cities.

    “This is perhaps the only such agreement between preservationists and the Roman Catholic Church, and we are pleased to have been part of it,” Ziegler said.

    Collaborations between churches and historic preservationists are rare, said Jeannie McPherson, spokeswoman for the National Historic Trust.

    “What’s happening in Pittsburgh is encouraging because many urban houses of worship are at risk around the country,” McPherson said. “It is important that we find ways to preserve these buildings, which, in addition to their architectural beauty, often are the anchors to a neighborhood. The way to make sure they are saved is for groups to work together.”

    Tony LaRussa can be reached at or .

    This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

  8. Route 28 redesign relies on railroad

    By Jim Ritchie
    Wednesday, April 27, 2005

    Norfolk Southern Railway Co. is negotiating with PennDOT to provide land for widening Route 28 in Pittsburgh, which could speed commute times and possibly spare the vacant St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church.

    Only a sidewalk separates St. Nicholas — the nation’s first Croatian Catholic church — from the busy highway, which PennDOT plans to rebuild from Millvale to the North Side in 2008. The project, previously estimated to cost up to $200 million, would add shoulders to the narrow highway and eliminate traffic signals at the 31st and 40th Street bridges that cause traffic tie-ups.

    “It’s bits and pieces of other designs,” said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, PennDOT’s assistant district executive for design. “We’re trying to please all of the stakeholders, and we think this alignment will please most of the traveling public, property owners and community groups.”

    PennDOT would not divulge more details of its plan, but said it would reveal the design this summer, likely in July.

    “We don’t want to go out to the public until we know what the railroad says,” Moon-Sirianni said. “Once we hear back from the railroad, we’ll have a better sense of where we’re going.”

    Railway spokeswoman Susan Terpay declined to discuss details of the proposal because it involved a possible real estate transaction. “We continue to have ongoing negotiations with them, and we are reviewing the first draft of their proposed plans,” she said.

    There’s just one hitch that has former St. Nicholas parishioners concerned: The project would close the church’s driveway from Route 28 and, so far, the new design does not provide for a replacement.

    Members of the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation, which wants to preserve and reopen the church, lobbied PennDOT a week ago to build a new access road. They fear the absence of a new road in the design means PennDOT might use the church property, especially if talks with the railroad fall through.

    “It’s essential that the access road go in,” said Robert Sladack, of Reserve, who belongs to the group. “On the more recent preliminary design, it was not listed.”

    PennDOT has not ruled out building the access road, which could be added in later versions of the design, said Moon-Sirianni.

    “Nothing’s been decided,” she said. “Everything is still on the table.”

    Rebuilding Route 28, which is used by about 60,000 drivers each day, became an engineering nightmare in the last several years. Most problems are linked to the highway’s narrow path in the city. Numerous buildings, including the church and the Millvale Industrial Park, line one side of Route 28, while the railroad tracks border the other side. Behind the row of buildings is a steep hillside climbing up to Troy Hill.

    In order for the new Route 28 to carry high-speed traffic through the city the way the Parkways North and East do, PennDOT must build shoulders on both sides to improve safety. Adding the shoulders likely would increase speed limits to 50-55 mph, from 35-40 mph.

    PennDOT’s initial plan called for leveling the church to make enough room for a faster, four-lane highway. Churchgoers and preservationist groups objected and PennDOT decided to find alternatives.

    The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh closed the church in December and moved the parish to a Millvale church, but formed a group to research other possible uses, said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, a diocesan spokesman. The diocese advanced $50,000 to St. Nicholas parish to repair a broken boiler so it could heat the empty building during the winter and avoid damage such as frozen pipes.

    PennDOT’s last round of proposals included tall retaining walls along the highway. Groups such as the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and the Riverlife Task Force objected, and the transportation department again chose to find a new plan.

    “We were concerned, as was Riverlife, about an 80-foot retaining wall,” said Cathy McCollom, the foundation’s chief programs officer.

    Until now, PennDOT and the railroad were unable to agree on a plan that would use railway property. That changed after the proposal of a state law that would have allowed Allegheny County government to take railroad property through eminent domain.

    “In the course of introducing the legislation, I found it was not necessary to push the movement of the bill because Norfolk Southern became amenable to working with PennDOT,” said state Rep. Don Walko, a North Side Democrat. “Suddenly, things just seemed to open up.”

    Jim Ritchie can be reached at or (412) 320-7933.

    This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633