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Pittsburgh’s BRT is fully funded, and sporting a new name

An articulated Pittsburgh Regional Transit bus painted in University Line colors.
Shreya Singh
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Regional Transit unveiled a new name and branding for BRT on Tuesday. The "University Line" will run between Downtown, Uptown, and Oakland.

The Federal Transit Administration presented a giant paper check for $150 million to Pittsburgh Regional Transit on Tuesday. The money had previously been promised for PRT’s bus rapid transit line between Downtown, Uptown, and Oakland, but having it in hand ensures that the project is fully funded.

Large paper checks, ribbon cuttings, and groundbreakings are important milestones as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Veronica Vanterpool, FTA Deputy administrator.

“It’s a big deal right now, because we understand that this industry and this sector is facing an existential moment,” she said.

LIke transit agencies across the country, PRT’s ridership remains far below pre-pandemic levels. However, Vanterpool noted that bus ridership has bounced back faster than rail ridership.

Despite facing headwinds, PRT, state, and local officials all offered bullish optimism for the agency’s future.

“True progress takes time,” said Katharine Kelleman, PRT’s CEO. She added that more BRT means greater reliability between the region’s two largest job centers, and also improves safety for pedestrians and cyclists in the corridor.

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Kelleman also announced a new name for the project: the University Line. She said the line it is the first project for what the agency hopes will be a service network it is calling PRTX.

PRTX, Kelleman said, will be the agency's “future service brand of high-quality, on-street bus rapid transit. ... The University Line will be our first PRTX project. But it will not be our last."

PRTX service will offer more frequent service to riders by traveling bus-only lanes where posssible. It will also offer enhanced amenities such as upgraded shelters with real-time arrival screens.

Earlier plans for the University Line included branches that would have run to Highland Park, through Squirrel Hill to Greenfield, and along the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway to Wilkinsburg. Those arms were scrapped as PRT faced higher costs, and FTA suggested officials should focus on just the Downtown, Uptown, Oakland core.

Still, FTA’s Vanterpool said BRT will provide fast, nimble, convenient service that helps transit agencies to attract and retain ridership. She said it will help people connect to jobs and one another.

“This BRT project will be a model for additional BRT corridors throughout Allegheny County.”

Vanterpool also noted the critical relationship between affordable housing and transit. Investments in one benefit the other, she said, and ultimately improve neighborhood safety and livability.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has championed the BRT project since he was a member of County Council more than a dozen years ago, and said the University Line will be an economic and environmental boon. Standing on the rooftop terrace of the David Lawrence Convention Center, Fitzgerald gestured to the North Side.

“You can see what transit can mean,” he said, referencing the county’s last transit project, the North Shore Connector T line. “That used to be a sea of asphalt over there … but with the transit connection over there, the development that has occurred has been incredible.”

PRT’s work on the Downtown section of the University Line — where Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority is currently working — is expected to get under way this fall.