Locals fear impact of transit plans on Panther Hollow neighborhood

Photo by Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
A proposed transit project through Junction Hollow “will destroy this unique neighborhood, Carlino Giapolo, a lifelong resident of Panther Hollow, said Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. “It’s a jewel.” – Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media

By Tom Fontaine – Trib Total Media

Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority expects to learn next week whether it will receive up to $3 million in state funding to help build a road for shuttles through Oakland’s Junction Hollow.

The shuttle-only road would be part of a larger, $7.2 million project to provide a faster, more direct link between Oakland’s universities and two development sites along the Monongahela River — South Oakland’s existing Pittsburgh Technology Center and a 178-acre site in Hazelwood where $1.1 billion in development is planned, including space for high-tech research and development.

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“We clearly recognize the potential for this link to enhance economic development and job creation,” Carnegie Mellon University spokeswoman Abby Simmons said.

But Carlino Giampolo of Oakland’s Panther Hollow section, just north of Junction Hollow Trail, is concerned added traffic and noise would “destroy what I think is one of Pittsburgh’s most unique neighborhoods.”

The URA’s application for state funding said the proposed shuttle route would “run south down Boundary Street (Panther Hollow’s main thoroughfare) and then move onto the Junction Hollow Trail until ending where it meets Boundary Street again” in Greenfield. From there, the shuttles would follow Saline Street en route to the Almono site and Pittsburgh Technology Center, according to the application, which shows the route extending through Hazelwood.

Giampolo is concerned that the project would eat up homes and land, destroying the secluded neighborhood.

URA Chairman Kevin Acklin, who is Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff and chief development officer, said the “course of the connection has not been determined and will be subject to robust discussion with the public and stakeholders.”

At the same time, Acklin said “our strong preference is for the transit connection to parallel as much as possible the existing rail line” that runs through the area and avoid Junction Hollow Trail. He said the route ideally would veer off Boundary Street in the area of Joncaire, without entering the Panther Hollow neighborhood.

Acklin said the road would use public land along the railroad right-of-way. If the city used the eastern side of the tracks, it would need court approval because the land sits in Schenley Park, Acklin said.

“There will be no disruption of neighborhoods that happens as part of this connection,” Acklin said.

About two to 12 shuttles would run hourly, and they would carry an estimated 250 daily passengers, URA documents show.

Once an enclave for hundreds of Italian immigrants and their families, Panther Hollow sits in the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning at the bottom of steep Joncaire Street, largely tucked away from Oakland’s hustle and bustle. Giampolo — who some residents call the “Mayor of Panther Hollow” — said college students now outnumber the fewer than two dozen longtime residents.

Aside from some students’ occasional late-night activities and the trains and cars that rarely pass through, Giampolo said, “It’s serene and peaceful down here. You can hear the birds chirping. … We don’t exist to benefit Carnegie Mellon and Pitt.”

South of Junction Hollow Trail, in Greenfield, Dave Proctor of Proctor’s Garage said he welcomed the connection.

“It’s progress. If it helps develop that (Almono) site, I say do it. It would be good for everybody,” Proctor said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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