To save the proposed Allegheny River subway tunnels, local activist Glenn Walsh is proposing that conventioneers and others take a walk.
Bids came in high for the construction of the under-river tunnels of the North Shore Connector T extension; the lowest was $87.5 million, 25 percent over budget. But Walsh thinks his idea could save the project and the budget. Walsh would keep the part of the tunnel that goes to the North Shore, but lop off a separate spur that under the current plan would go to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. In its place, he proposes a humble walkway. Well, maybe not so humble -- it'd be covered, elevated and over 100 feet long.
In Walsh's plan, passengers could get off the T at Penn Park (the first stop on the East Busway) and enter the walkway, which Walsh says could run from there to the Convention Center, passing through the new Greyhound station under construction on the site of the old one, near Liberty and Grant.
Walsh took his idea to the Port Authority's official riders' group, the Allegheny County Transit Council. On Oct. 19, the Council will vote on whether to formally pass the idea to Port Authority.
According to the current North Shore Connector plans, the new T station would be under 11th Street, in front of the new Greyhound Station and next door to the Convention Center. It would connect to the existing Steel Plaza station, probably operating as a quick rail shuttle back and forth.
By killing the Convention Center tunnel spur, Walsh would make use of an existing mini-branch line -- from Steel Plaza to the Penn Park station. This little line has, until now, been a big disappointment. Until the early 1990s, PAT operated this as a "rail shuttle" between Steel Plaza and Penn Park, but it never got the ridership planners hoped for.
Penn Park station is only two blocks from the Convention Center. But that can take over 10 minutes to walk, with most of that time spent waiting to cross a dangerous, confusing three-way intersection at Grant and Liberty avenues and 11th Street.
Building a walkway would be millions of dollars cheaper than building a new subway spur, Walsh says. Besides that, Walsh has long been an advocate for putting the Penn Plaza station -- and nearby rail yard -- back in use.
"We don't like that idea," said PAT's engineering and construction manager, Henry Nutbrown, adding that the Convention Center is an important T stop, and that, like the North Shore stops, the new Downtown T stops is supposed to support "fringe parking. The [City] Parking Authority and Greyhound are producing a new garage [there], so they're sort of counting on us."
Given the bureaucratic logistics, Walsh's idea may not even be feasible. Transit Council president John Tague points out that a decade's worth of federally mandated paperwork might have to be redone or risk jeopardizing federal funding.
"It's a little late in the game," Tague adds. "Glenn's right to bring this forward, [but] they'd have to alter the whole plan."
Allegheny County Transit Council meets Oct. 19, 6-8 p.m., at Port Authority headquarters, 345 Sixth Avenue, 5th floor, Downtown.