Construction of Pittsburgh’s bus rapid transit or BRT project is expected to begin in late 2021. Port Authority of Allegheny County is working with a project management oversight consultant from the Federal Transit Administration to ensure the agency meets the remaining requirements, which include finalizing funding and design.
This summer, the federal government awarded nearly $100 million to the BRT project. Before the money can be released, Port Authority must show it has all other funding in hand. Chief development officer David Huffaker said they are in the final phases of doing so.
“It’s been a very good fall for locking up some of the last commitments,” he said, adding that the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are updating their project budgets, and Port Authority is finalizing commitments in its own capital budget.
In January, the agency will start a final round of public outreach.
“This is kind of a last check and … an opportunity for people to hear about the development of the project,” Huffaker said.
If all goes to plan, the federal government will release the funds and allow Port Authority to bring construction and construction management contracts to its board.
The bus rapid transit route will run between downtown and Oakland with spurs to Highland Park, Squirrel Hill and Greenfield, Wilkinsburg and into the eastern suburbs. Huffaker said the $230 million project will drive economic vitality in Pittsburgh.
“This project will connect the numbers two and three job centers in the state of Pennsylvania in a much more efficient way than what's on the street today,” he said.
Port Authority expects to reduce congestion on the roads, which will decrease travel times for both public transit riders and motorists. Those time savings will allow the agency to add greater capacity to other parts of the system. In addition, construction work on the BRT corridor will add protected bike lanes and improve sidewalks for pedestrians.
The long-awaited project is just one part of the agency’s long-range planning efforts, which aim to identify gaps in service and expand transit throughout the region over the next 25 years.
However, Pennsylvania continues to struggle to find a permanent funding solution for public transit. Without legislative action, funding will drop dramatically in 2022.
But Huffaker said the value of public transit is clear.
“We know that there will be a need for transit in the future,” he said. “And in fact, it's shown itself to be the lifeline for essential workers today.”