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Port Authority Proposes Its Top 10 Projects

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA

In the next five to fifteen years, the Port Authority of Allegheny County hopes to make key investments that will expand ridership, improve connections among neighborhoods, and increase the efficiency of the countywide public transit system. As part of the agency’s long-range planning effort, NEXTransit, officials unveiled a list of 10 priority projects at a public meeting on Monday.

CEO Katharine Kelleman said the current round of public meetings will be the last before officials release a final draft of the long-range plan.

“We hope it reflects what you want to see in our region’s transit future,” Kelleman said. “This is your system, so let’s make sure we heard you right.”

Director of planning and service development Amy Silbermann said the agency combed through data to identify the biggest gaps in the countywide network, and then used public input to ensure that what they saw in the data is what people experience on the ground. Port Authority took those ideas and laid out corridors of travel. Within five years the agency proposed:

  • An East/Central Pittsburgh Connection: This corridor would run from the Strip District to the Hill District, into Oakland and then Hazelwood before crossing the Monongahela River and into parts of the South Hills.
  • A Downtown Transit Center: Currently, 84 of the Port Authority’s routes travel into Downtown, and officials envision a central hub that serves as a transfer point between them. While a single hub could not handle all of those routes, officials said, it could optimize how people travel to and through the Central Business District. Port Authority is currently working with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to study such a hub.
  • A “best use study” for the Library Line: The line will soon need some $450 million in capital investments, and officials said they want to review how they could expand ridership and encourage development as they work to upgrade the corridor.
  • An upgraded Homestead to McKeesport link: There are already on-street connections along this corridor, but the Port Authority wants to upgrade amenities such as bus shelters, as well as make it easier for buses to travel in order to improve efficiency.

Also on the list of top-ten projects: the Port Authority proposed a rapid transit link between the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway and Monroeville; possibly reviving the rail line that remains on-street in Allentown that could run from there to Downtown and possibly the Strip District; improvements to existing bus service along McKnight Road; and a rapid-transit connection between Downtown and Allegheny River communities such as Oakmont or Verona.

The final two projects in the top 10, both slated for study within the next 15 years, are rapid transit to the airport and an extension of the East Busway to Braddock and then on to East Pittsburgh and eventually McKeesport.

Before any of those projects can begin, Port Authority must first expand its operations facilities. The agency has four bus divisions and one light-rail division, all of which are at capacity. In order to add more vehicles and expand service, officials said Port Authority needs to add a fifth bus garage.

The agency plans to begin a full study of its network in the next two years, said Silbermann. However, officials will wait to begin until they see how routes stabilize as people emerge from the pandemic.

“We know that we’ve lost a lot of service and a lot of coverage over time,” she said. “We can think about building back some of that network with an eye towards how people are moving today.”

In addition to a list of priority projects, the Port Authority also proposed policies for inclusion in its long-range plan: a sidewalk program to ensure people can safely access bus or light rail service; continued study to support affordable fares; work to make every part of the system ADA-compliant; and a program to improve and help people easily navigate the system.

Public comment on the projects and policies will extend through June. Port Authority expects to issue a final draft of the full plan on July 15 for further public input.