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Important New Transportation Corridor Opens in Pittsburgh
by Geoffrey B. Nara, P.E., L.A., Pittsburgh Section

Most people familiar with the major transportation projects in southwestern Pennsylvania immediately think of the Mon/Fayette Expressway when the subject of "important transportation corridors" is raised. But the opening of another critical transportation link for the Pittsburgh area, the West Busway, has the Port Authority of Allegheny County proud.

An undertaking that began over a decade ago, the West Busway opened for service in September 2000. Where once there was an abandoned, overgrown, debris-covered railroad right-of-way, now is a modern rapid transit facility providing numerous community and transit related benefits.

Planning efforts that were the seed of this new facility began 12 years ago with a multi-model corridor study of the Parkway West, Pittsburgh's highway link of its downtown and the airport. This study identified various transportation needs, including transit recommendations. Further studies and refinements led to the Busway proposal. After receiving the Federal Transit Administration Record of Decision in mid-1994, construction started that October. Six years later, the West Busway is a five-mile long, two-lane roadway for buses only, that begins in the Borough of Carnegie and passes through the communities of Rosslyn Farms, East Carnegie, Oakwood, Crafton and Ingram, west of Pittsburgh. It ends in Sheraden near Corliss Street, where it crosses the Norfolk Southern railroad mainline on a flyover, providing an incredible view of the city's Golden Triangle.

The West Busway provides a rapid transit connection between the Airport Corridor to the west, downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland, and other points to the east of the city by way of the East Busway corridor. It improves mobility within the increasingly congested Parkway West Corridor by allowing buses to bypass Green Tree Hill and the Fort Pitt Tunnels, where traffic delays occur throughout the day, and thereby helps reduce traffic congestion on the Parkway West. Expected time savings are an impressive 25 minutes inbound and seven minutes outbound. Ridership during the first month of operation averaged 6,000 riders per day, with a projected daily ridership of 10,000 by 2005.

The Busway will provide a reliable transportation option during the pending reconstruction of the Fort Pitt Bridge and Tunnels, where the Parkway West connects to the city's central business district. When this bridge and tunnel construction project begins, a major transportation link to downtown Pittsburgh will be disrupted. The West Busway will be a key, viable traffic relief alternative.

Some key features of the West Busway include:

  • Total project cost = $326.8 million
  • Alignment follows an abandoned railroad right-of-way which, before the Busway, was overgrown and choked with debris.
  • Rehabilitation and enlargement of a 150-year-old railroad tunnel. The 3,000-foot long tunnel was widened from 25 feet to 30 feet, 6 inches using the New Austrian Tunneling Method.
  • Renovation and/or reconstruction of 11 existing bridges, including renovating and constructing a new, wider deck on a 70-foot high former railroad bridge.
  • Construction of four new bridges, including a 120-foot radius curved girder bridge constructed under the existing Parkway West bridge.
  • 55 mph design speed.
  • 4,936 linear feet of noise walls.
  • 191,000 cubic yards of concrete and 4,200 tons of steel used in construction.
  • Interchange with the Parkway West in Carnegie, which provides for direct access for buses from the western suburbs. The interchange was designed to allow for future widening of the Parkway West.
  • Access points a several locations that allow buses from feeder routes to use the Busway without the need for transfers.
  • Six stations which are fully ADA compliant and patron-friendly, with public telephones as well as information and security phone systems. The stations all have attractive, effective shelters and an aesthetically pleasing, curvilinear design.
  • Three on-line park and ride lots providing approximately 460 spaces. Five additional remote park and ride locations throughout western Allegheny County will provide approximately 2,340 new spaces.
  • Local police and other emergency personnel are permitted to use the Busway, reducing their response time to emergencies.
  • 89 prime contractors and subcontractors, including 38 DBE firms, participated in the construction of the project.

This adds up to an impressive project, fulfilling an important transportation need for the Pittsburgh area.

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