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Rail to Oakland would be problematic

Written by Jon Schmitz on .


Is Oakland ready for the continuous rumble of rail cars? Such a project's cost and logistics do not make it seem feasible. (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette)

Those who think the Port Authority and Allegheny County should pursue a light-rail extension from Downtown to Oakland, rather than the Bus Rapid Transit project that is moving forward, might want to consider the following:

Light rail would cost five to 10 times as much as the proposed $200 million BRT line, depending on how much tunneling or bridge construction would be needed to connect to the existing line. Obtaining federal funding to advance BRT to construction will be tough enough, as competition for federal capital grants is fierce.

Operating such a system would be more expensive. The authority’s operating expense per passenger mile in 2012 was nearly 20 percent more for rail than buses. Port Authority is in good financial condition for the first time in many years but won’t stay that way if it chooses more expensive options for running the system.

Infrastructure for a rail line -- structures every few yards to hold up the wires, the wires themselves, signals, longer station platforms, power plants -- would be far more intrusive in the narrow Forbes-Fifth corridor than what will be needed for BRT. How would overhead structures every few yards look in the heart of Oakland?

Buses aren’t quiet but light-rail vehicles, despite the name, are heavy enough to shake the ground around them as they move. Is Oakland ready for the continuous rumble of rail cars?

Because rail cars are heavy and harder to stop, Port Authority slows them to 5 to 10 mph in areas where vehicle traffic and pedestrians commingle with or cross the rail line. Nearly all of the route to Oakland would be that type of environment. The only way to operate at higher speeds would be to fence in long sections of track, which would be impractical. Buses in reserved lanes would move faster.

Some of the above-mentioned problems with rail could be avoided by building underground. Bear in mind that the North Shore Connector cost nearly $550 million and extended the system just over a mile. The line to Oakland would need to be at least three times as long through a heavily built up and populated area. Construction would be a 3- to 5-year nightmare for people and businesses.

A BRT system can be developed in phases over time as funding becomes available. That’s a key factor because it may be difficult to line up all of the construction funding at the outset.

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Port Authority has added three more routes to its developing real-time bus tracking system, bringing the total to eight. Riders of 41 Bower Hill, 56 Lincoln Place and 88 Penn are now able to find out the exact location of buses on those routes using a smartphone, tablet or PC. The system can be accessed at www.portauthority.org.


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menatworkThe painting project that has brought an around-the-clock closure to the outbound Liberty Tunnel will spread to the inbound side starting tonight. The inbound tunnel will close at 8 p.m. today through Friday, reopening by 6 a.m. each day. Traffic will be detoured via Route 51 to the Parkway West interchange. The outbound tunnel remains closed, with reopening scheduled for 6 a.m. next Monday. A 16-day around-the-clock closure of the inbound tunnel will occur next month, on dates yet to be determined.

A long-term around-the-clock closure of West Hardies Road in Hampton is scheduled to begin tonight. The road will close at 8 p.m. between Route 8 and Pioneer Road, with traffic detoured via Wildwood Road. The closure is expected to continue into late August.

Indiana Road in Penn Hills will close today through Wednesday for repaving, weather permitting. The closures will occur from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Local traffic only will be permitted on the road, with others detoured via Hulton Road. The work had been scheduled for last week but was postponed.

An $8 million resurfacing project is scheduled to begin today on Route 19 in Ross and McCandless. The work will cause single-lane traffic starting at 7 p.m. weekdays between Sewickley Oakmont Road in Ross and Longvue Avenue in McCandless through early November. The restriction will be lifted by 6 a.m. daily. A schedule of weekend work will be announced in August. The project will extend into next spring.

Inspection of the Boston Bridge, which carries Route 48 over the Youghiogheny River in Versailles and Elizabeth Township, will cause alternating one-way traffic starting today. The work will be done from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 1.

Filming of the boxing movie “Southpaw” may cause detours today along Brownsville Road in Carrick and Brentwood. The detours are possible from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Brownsville Road intersections with Route 51, Towne Square Way and Biscayne Drive, according to the Pittsburgh Film Office.

Lane closures and two traffic stoppages of up to 15 minutes are scheduled on the Parkway East tonight as PennDOT installs traffic counters. The work will occur between Forest Hills and the Squirrel Hill Tunnels from 10 tonight until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

A $1.65 million improvement project at Route 8 and Ewalt Road in Richland, intended to improve safety and mobility at the intersections with Ewalt Road and Cook Road by adding left hand turn lanes, widening Route 8 and installing concrete barrier, has begun. Northbound Route 8 is reduced to a single 12-foot-wide lane between Krebs and Applewood drives. Southbound Route 8 will remain two lanes. Left turns to Ewalt Road from northbound Route 8 are prohibited.

Rock removal will cause a lane closure on inbound Route 28 near the Route 910 interchange in Harmar from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 8.

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