An express bus system linking Oakland and Downtown is still years off, but community meetings on proposals could start within the next few months, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Wednesday.
Peduto, Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh City Council members Daniel Lavelle and Dan Gilman and Port Authority officials took a bus tour along potential routes for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, known as BRT. The tour traveled Forbes Avenue from Downtown to Morewood Avenue in Oakland and returned to Downtown along Fifth Avenue, Fitzgerald said.
The trip was meant to give Peduto, City Council members and others a sense of where stops and dedicated bus lanes could go and how traffic flow might be affected, Fitzgerald said.
“This isn’t about us coming on board and saying what’s going to happen. It’s about us getting an understanding to bring back proposals with information behind them so the community can have a voice in deciding what will happen,” Peduto said.
Along the tour, Fitzgerald and Peduto scouted for potential stops near Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Consol Energy Center. A stop could also be placed in Uptown and another could be at Kirkpatrick Street near the Birmingham Bridge in the Hill District, Fitzgerald and Peduto said.
Lavelle, whose District 6 covers the Hill and Uptown, said placement of the stops will improve neighborhoods, increase property values and connect residents to better jobs. Gilman, whose District 8 includes Oakland, said it could spur development that replaces vacant lots and empty storefronts.
No decision has been made on whether the bus-only lanes will be on Forbes Avenue or Fifth Avenue. Peduto and Fitzgerald both favor a combination of the two streets to maximize potential development.
Funding for the projected $200 million project will come from a mix of federal, state and local grants and financing options. Fitzgerald expects the foundation community and private sector to contribute.
Proposals to extend the T light-rail system into Oakland could cost billions and take 15 years or more to develop, leaders have said.
“We can’t afford it,” Peduto said of the light-rail option. “What we have now is an opportunity to either connect Oakland and Downtown through a fixed system, a BRT system, and do it within the next several years or try to continue studying other ways of doing it. What I really hope is that we don’t let perfect be the enemy of progress, and that we get moving onto this.”
Fitzgerald said he thought the project could be completed in three to four years.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or [email protected].