Transportation
6:35 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

North Shore Connector Almost Set to Roll

The Port Authority of Allegheny County is putting the finishing touches on its project to extend light rail service to the North Shore.

The $523 million "North Shore Connector" is set to run its first public train on Sunday, March 25.

It connects downtown Pittsburgh to the North Shore with three new stops. The Gateway Station is in the Golden Triangle, on Stanwix Street between Penn and Liberty Avenues. The first stop across the Allegheny River, the North Side Station, is behind PNC Park, while the second stop, the Allegheny Station, is behind Heinz Field and the Carnegie Science Center.

After snaking its way under the river for about half a mile, the "T" track becomes elevated as it reaches towards Heinz Field and the Rivers Casino. The extension runs 1.2 miles from end to end, beefing up a limited T system that currently runs mainly from the South Hills to Downtown.

At a Port Authority budget hearing earlier this month, many speakers suggested that PAT wouldn't be facing a $65 million budget shortfall if it hadn't spent money on the North Shore Connector. Port Authority Rail Operations Engineering Officer Winston Simmonds disagreed with that notion.

"The first thing is, you can't build a project like this without local, state, and federal support, and the business community stakeholders. You just absolutely can't. We had all that," said Simmonds. "The second thing is, even if the North Shore Connector did not exist, we would still have a $65 million budget deficit. There's a difference in terms of capital dollars and operating dollars."

Allegheny County paid for just 3.3% of the $523.4 million price tag, while the federal government covered 80% of the bill. The state government provided the rest.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said a few minutes' ride on the connector may silence some critics of the project.

"The biggest criticism I've heard about this project is that this is somehow a 'tunnel to nowhere,'" said Richie. "I think, standing here at Allegheny Station with Heinz Field and the Science Center in front of me, and CCAC behind me, and Rivers Casino to the right of us, I don't see how you call it a 'tunnel to nowhere.' This is definitely somewhere."

For the next three years, trips from Downtown to the North Shore are free, compliments of the Steelers, the Rivers Casino, the Stadium Authority, and ALCO Parking.