Development & Transportation

We cover how people move about the region, as well as trends in housing and commercial development.

Good News for Port Authority Bus Service

Aug 29, 2014
wildcellist / Flickr

When we hear news of Port Authority of Allegheny County service changes, it usually means we’ll have to brace ourselves for cuts in service. But with transportation funding legislation approved by the legislature and Governor Tom Corbett last fall, the authority plans to add more frequent service to some of the busiest routes. 

Ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber have been granted temporary operating licenses in the Pittsburgh area, but it’s still up the Public Utility Commission to determine if they should be granted permanent permission to operate, and whether regulatory changes are needed to fit them into the transportation landscape.

A PUC hearing Thursday tackled the issue.

“I think that it would be embarrassing if we step back and say ‘no, we’re not going to accept this innovation,’” said state Rep. Erin Molchany.

Nearly 5 million people from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are expected to travel 50 miles or more this Labor Day weekend for their last hurrahs of summer, according to AAA.

That’s a 0.6 percent increase from last year, according to AAA spokeswoman Teresa Adams. She said people are trying to squeeze the last drops of summer out of the holiday weekend.

“The school year’s starting, the weather is beautiful,” she said, “[and] we have an opportunity to get out there one last time before the winter and the snow.”

Drivers in the city of Pittsburgh are 51.3 percent more likely to be involved in a car accident than the average American, according to an Allstate Insurance Company report released today.

Pittsburgh is 14th worst overall among 200 cities in the report, and is last among cities with 250,000 to 499,000 residents.

In other words, “if you live in Pittsburgh, you’re going to get in a car accident,” Allstate spokesperson Julia Reusch said.

Nearly $35.9 million in state funding has been approved for rail freight improvements. The grants will help support about 34,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.

“Freight rail is actually very important in Pennsylvania, because we have the highest number of short-line railroads in the entire country, and we’re in the top five as far as the number of miles we have of track,” said Penndot spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt, “so we need to keep investing in those resources, because they support good paying jobs and they keep goods moving through our state.”

The long-delayed Lower Monongahela River Project to replace aging locks and dams is inching forward as funding becomes available, with a new $58.6 million dollar contract awarded to Joseph B. Fay Company to begin construction of a new lock wall near Charleroi.

The four-year contract will include building six reinforced concrete monoliths that will become part of the 260 foot by 35 foot wall. The new wall will be the center divider between two lock chambers that will eventually replace the current locks.

Nationally, AAA forecasts this August’s gas prices to be lower than in previous years – but in Pennsylvania, not so much.

The average price for regular unleaded gasoline in western Pennsylvania is $3.72 per gallon - compared to $3.52 nationally.

Teresa Thomas, AAA East Central director of public affairs, said there are two reasons for higher gas prices in the commonwealth.

“One is the gas tax, and we also use a special summer blend of fuel in seven counties in western Pennsylvania, and that makes the price a little higher than the national average,” Thomas said.

File photo / Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Ten days after the outbound Liberty Tunnel opened after a 16-day round-the-clock closure, PennDOT will close the inbound tunnel 24/7 for 17 days starting Tuesday at 8 pm.

PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said that like the recent work done on the outbound tunnel, the inbound tunnel will be painted.

"This allows a surface that allows crews to clean the inside of the tunnel,” he said.

90.5 WESA's Michael Lynch

More than two dozen Pittsburgh Parking Authority (PPA) lots and garages across the city are increasing rates Friday.

The increases vary by location. All-day parking at the Third Avenue Garage will jump from $12.75 to $16; the Oliver Garage will rise $4.25 to $17; and, the Mellon Square and Smithfield-Liberty garages will remain the most expensive city-owned parking structures in the city at $18.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Waiting for buses at stops can often mean standing in or near a bus shelter – typically it’s not a fancy or a very comfortable experience.

Enter the new Super Stop in the Ikea parking lot in Robinson.

The Airport Corridor Transportation Association (ACTA) held a grand opening for the stop Tuesday. It does have the bus shelters and benches, but outside of the shelters, there’s an area with tables and chairs, making it seem more like somebody’s patio than a bus stop. Though, as officials pointed out, the Super Stop is not meant just for bus commuters.

Electric cars have come a long way from having short ranges, and a wimpy top speed of 40 miles per hour. Now many electric cars can go upwards of 130mph, have a range of 250 miles, and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is trying to get more motorists to purchase one.

Pennsylvania ranks 19th in number of public electric car charging stations with 270 outlets—make that 274.

The Mall at Robinson Thursday unveiled four new car charging stations powered by solar panels mounted above the mall’s food court entrance.

Mall General Manager Beth Edwards said the stations take about 2 hours to fully charge an empty battery. That’s six times faster than the average at-home charge.

The solar panels are “actually offsetting the eight kilowatts that are needed for four full charges of the station,” Edwards said.

The state Public Utility Commission has approved emergency permits for two ride-sharing companies that have been operating in the Pittsburgh area.
 
The companies have come under fire over concerns that drivers, their vehicles and their insurance don't meet regulations for taxi cabs and other similar services. The companies have argued their services are just as safe but have been targeted because they don't fit neatly into current public transportation regulations.
 

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission continues to try stopping ridesharing services Uber and Lyft from operating in the Pittsburgh area, often citing that the drivers are not regulated by the state, which is a safety concern.

This prompted one Pittsburgh man to look into a major safety issue – driving under the influence.

“Under that safety argument I decided to look into DUIs, arguably one of biggest dangers on the road, this could have been having a profound change in that area,” said Nate Good.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County approved shifting $1.56 million dollars from its capital budget to add to the amount needed to study a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line between downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland.

Port Authority Chairman Bob Hurley said an initial engineering and environmental study is a critical part of the process.

Study: PA's Rural Bridges Worst in the Country

Jul 14, 2014

Pittsburgh is known as “The City of Bridges,” but a recent study by national transportation research group TRIP suggests that there are other areas in the state whose bridges could use a little more attention.

The study, published Thursday, found that the condition of Pennsylvania’s rural bridges was the worst in the country. Pennsylvania’s country roads scored slightly better, at the 20th worst among the 50 states. The fatality statistics were grim—Pennsylvania has the 10th highest death rate on its country roads of any state.

On a daily basis, 18,500 vehicles travel through the outbound Liberty Tunnel. Effective at 8 p.m. Friday, motorists will need to find a new way to the South Hills.

PennDOT is closing the outbound tunnel around-the-clock through 6 a.m. Monday July 28.

Crews will prepare the tunnel walls so they can be painted and complete work that was halted in December.

Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Mayor Bill Peduto lifted his cell phone up, showing the Lyft and Uber apps on his screen.

“I don’t drive them, but I use them,” Peduto said. “I’ve used them both in the city of Pittsburgh and also in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. It’s very easy to use.”

Montgomery County Planning Commission / Flickr

Right now, most Pittsburghers use their car to get around, but that may change in the near future. First of all, the city lacks sufficient parking, especially downtown. But new transportation options backed by the mayor will make it easier to get around “tahn” without owning a car. Mayor Peduto stopped by Essential Pittsburgh to focus on the city’s transportation goals going forward.

The most immediate issue the mayor has been dealing with was the Uber/Lyft dispute. Peduto said he is behind the two ride sharing companies and calls the ongoing dispute with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission "dysfunctional."

Pittsburgh International Airport will begin offering daily nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale, officials announced Wednesday.

Travelers can book their seats now through JetBlue for the inaugural flight, leaving Pittsburgh Oct. 29 at 7:15 a.m. Those making the trip will receive discounted airport parking.

Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Chief Executive, said the new year-round flight will benefit travelers and businesses.

As PennDOT nears completion on the two-year long, $49 million rehabilitation of the Squirrel Hill Tunnels next month, it’s beginning work Wednesday evening on the first of three Parkway West (I-376) projects.

One outbound lane will be closed as workers install traffic control signs Wednesday and Thursday from midnight until 5 a.m.

This first project involves construction of a fourth outbound lane, about a mile long, from Rosslyn Farms to I-79. PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said he expects this part of the $3.72 million project to be completed by the spring.

The ride-sharing company Uber has asked the Public Utility Commission (PUC) for an emergency permit, which would allow the company to resume experimental service.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) started drafting legislation last week that would legalize ride-sharing in Pennsylvania.

90.5 WESA's Michael Lynch

Pittsburgh is the 35th most bike-friendly city in the U.S., according to Bicycling Magazine.

Now, Bike Pittsburgh is introducing cycling classes in an effort to make the city be even more bike-able.

The “Fundamentals of City Cycling” class is taught indoors at The Wheel Mill in Homewood. Participants will learn about the basics of bicycling including techniques to maneuver obstacles such as curbs and potholes; using hand signals; how to start and stop in traffic; and, how to perform a pre-ride safety check.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other city officials announced the construction of three protected bike lanes in the city. The lanes will be built from Schenley Plaza to Anderson Playground in Schenley Park, along Saline Street between Greenfield Avenue and Swinburne Street (Panther Hollow Trail) in Greenfield, and on Penn Avenue from 11th Street to Stanwix Avenue Downtown.

State legislators are preparing a measure that would allow ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber to operate in Pennsylvania, days after administrative judges with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) ordered the companies to cease operations.

Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) has already drafted a bill that would lessen the PUC's regulations on background checks, insurance, vehicle inspections, and most importantly, licensing.

Flickr user Dale Beckett

 

Fourth of July weekend travel is expected to reach pre-recession levels for the first time, even though gas prices are the highest they’ve been since 2008.

AAA is predicting that 41 million Americans will travel at least fifty miles this weekend, a 1.9 percent increase over last year, with 80 percent traveling by car.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, the number of people traveling to celebrate the holiday is expected increase by 1.3 percent.

Gas Prices Closing in on the $4 Mark in Pittsburgh

Jul 2, 2014
Jenn Durfey / Flickr

Perhaps you have noticed the marquee at your local convenience store and other displays of the price of a gallon of gas inching upward in past weeks. Pennsylvania’s gas prices have been ranked the tenth highest in the country.

The average price of a gallon of gas in Pennsylvania is $3.76, well above the national average of $3.67. Pittsburgh is even higher than the rest of Pennsylvania, with an average price of a gallon of gas costing $3.84.

Gregg Laskoski, Senior Petroleum Analyst for GasBuddy.com, said in some areas of Pittsburgh $4.00 for a gallon of gas is a penny away.

Lyft

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has slammed the brakes on ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber in Pittsburgh effective immediately.

PUC Administrative Law judges have granted the emergency petition by the PUC Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement to issue cease-and-desist orders for the companies.

The two-judge panel wrote that they were not “blind or deaf to the public opinion,” but that the commission’s duty to ensure public safety is more important than the convenience of the companies.

Two administrative law judges have agreed with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to force two ride-share companies to stop operating in Pittsburgh.

The judges issued their rulings Tuesday, five days after PUC attorneys argued that Lyft and Uber are violating state rules that govern paid transportation services.

Uber, Lyft and other ride-share companies use smartphone apps to dispatch drivers who use their own personal vehicles.

Historic Tunnel to be Added to Bike Path

Jun 30, 2014

Pennsylvania’s cyclists will soon be able to enjoy some century-old history as part of their biking scenery.

After decades of being boarded up and blocked off, the Pinkerton Tunnel near Markleton in Somerset County is set to be renovated and made part of the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail sometime next year.

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