Plans are moving forward on the construction of a bus rapid transit system, or BRT, between the city’s two largest employment centers: Downtown and Oakland.
Developers proposed four route options based on analysis and public input.
The most ambitious option includes two service lines from Downtown to Wilkinsburg, with branches in Highland Park and Greenfield. The core line would run only from Downtown to Oakland.
BRTs are buses that operate on dedicated lanes. They are said to reduce congestion along busy city corridors. According to Pittsburgh transit officials, BRT could decrease travel time at peak traffic hours by four to 15 minutes.
Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Rich Fitzgerald emphasized the importance of improving the region’s existing transit system, saying BRT would benefit the experience for bikers, pedestrians and vehicle commuters, alike.
“As Downtown and Oakland continue to grow, we see development that’s occurring,” Fitzgerald said. “But if we don’t figure out a way to move people more efficiently, it’ll stunt that growth or choke off that growth.”
Fitzgerald said about 50 percent of the project’s estimated $200-240 million price tag will come from federal funding. He said the city and county are applying for a Smart Cities grant and expect to submit it in August. The rest of the money will be supplemented through city, county and state taxes, as well as stakeholder contributions.
“Similar to what we did a few years ago when we did the (North Shore) subway extension,” Fitzgerald said. “This is a different type of project. This is a community development project rather than just a straight, ‘build a roadway, build a rail line, transit infrastructure.’”
Fitzgerald said he hopes the system will be operational by 2021. Fitzgerald was among local officials who toured Cleveland’s BRT system, the “Health Line.” Pittsburgh’s formal investigation of the project began in 2014.
Peduto said he’d prefer the most comprehensive plan, which ranked one out of 42 service options based on 15 metrics for transit efficiency.
“If we’re going to do this, let’s do it all,” Peduto said.
Metrics were defined by user priorities, including frequency of service, reliability, scheduling ease and transfer accessibility. Specific costs weren’t available for the four proposals. The “Core BRT Short,” which would run Downtown to Oakland, ranked 26th. The region’s current bus-heavy service ranked 39th.
If the “Core BRT + Squirrel Hill + Highland Park Branches” option is chosen, buses would share the road with cars and bicycles leaving Oakland near the Cathedral of Learning. Highland Park’s branch would end at Bunker Hill and Greenfield’s final stop would be at Loretta Street.
Peduto said he anticipates the neighborhood of Uptown would see the most significant economic change. The actual alignment and flow of traffic there, as well as in Downtown, is still being determined.
Amy Silbermann, senior analyst with the Port Authority's Department of Planning and Evaluation, said riders would see changes to the stations between Downtown and Oakland, as well as improvements to the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Sort of like what the East Liberty station is now,” Silbermann said. “Ticket vending machines for buying fare products, real time arrival information for buses, and many other additional amenities, especially in Uptown, like storm water management, trees and lighting upgrades.”
Silbermann said PAT is advocating for battery-electric buses, emitting very few air pollutants. CDM Smith Inc. is doing the preliminary design for the system with a contract of $2.4 million.
The first community meeting will be held in the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall on April 5.