Pittsburgh seeking money for transit link between Oakland, Hazelwood development site

The following article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 29, 2015. The proposed project was sudden and unanticipated by the Panther Hollow community, creating anxiety, fear and dread, especially to the elderly residents. Neither Mayor William Peduto, nor Chief of Staff and Chief Development Officer Kevin Acklin, nor Pittsburgh City Council members, nor leaders of the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University had the compassion or integrity to inform the longtime residents of these plans.

Pittsburgh seeking money for transit link between Oakland, Hazelwood development site

Plans for corridor making headway

August 29, 2015 12:00 AM
By Jon Schmitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh officials hope to advance plans for a new transportation corridor linking Oakland with the city’s biggest undeveloped parcel, the former LTV Steel site on the Monongahela River.

A plan embraced in 2009 by Bill Peduto, then a city councilman and now mayor, has evolved and no longer envisions using an existing freight rail line for passenger trains, because of the current volume of freight traffic. The new plan calls for building a road for rubber-tire shuttles, possibly including driverless vehicles that are under development at Carnegie Mellon University.

It also calls for bike-pedestrian improvements, including a bridge over the railroad tracks.

The city already owns the right-of-way along which the corridor would be built, said Kevin Acklin, the mayor’s chief of staff and chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. It would ultimately connect to the former steel mill land that is now called the Almono site, a mashing of the names of the three rivers.

The URA this month approved a $3 million application for a state grant to help pay for the first phase of the project, estimated to cost $7.2 million. The application envisions a construction start as early as June.

The Almono site in what is called the Hazelwood Flats is owned by four regional foundations and its development is being managed by RIDC Corp. Some site work and a long-range mixed-use development plan have been prepared, but transportation connections are inadequate, Mr. Acklin said.

“We think it’s a priority project for the city based on the present lack of a connection from Oakland to the Almono site,” he said. “One of the challenges is to unlock that site from a transportation perspective and connect it to the rest of the community.”

Demand is strong for offices and high-tech lab space close to Oakland and the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, the grant application noted. But vacancy rates are near zero and there isn’t much room for development. A transportation link to Almono can address that and spread growth into adjoining communities, it said.

“It would be a perfect opportunity for companies that want to be near the universities,” Mr. Acklin said.

While the project would improve transportation and provide economic benefits, it also would allow for further development of autonomous, or driverless, vehicles, which could be used to shuttle employees between Oakland and the development site, the application said. Carnegie Mellon is an international leader in pioneering the technology.

The first segment, called the Junction Hollow Connector, would be combined with existing and proposed public streets to create a larger Oakland Transit Connector. The Junction Hollow segment begins at South Neville Street and Forbes Avenue in Oakland, goes south on Boundary Street and continues on the existing trail through the hollow until it rejoins Boundary Street.

Mr. Acklin said construction of a light-rail line eventually could occur in the corridor.

“Obviously, this would come with a very robust community engagement,” he said of the project. “It’s in the early stages, but we do see a path. We have the land to do it.”

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868 or on Twitter @pgtraffic.

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