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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.

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