Thursday, February 19, 2009

The North Shore Connector: Time For Recriminations

The Port Authority's North Shore Connector is a "tragic mistake," Gov. Ed Rendell said Wednesday. (Trib, Mike Wereschagin)

I ... what?

"I wish the project had never started," Rendell said during an appearance at Community College of Allegheny County. "There's so many ways that money could've been applied to the transportation needs of this region in a more beneficial fashion. It's gone down the road now, and I guess you've got to finish it, but it's a tragic mistake."

I can't believe I'm reading this. It's like, "We selectively enforce the drink tax in Philadelphia" all over again.

Now would be a good opportunity to explore the history of the Connector, would it not? Can anybody answer exactly how it came to be? It was never a "popular" project. I know that Onorato likes to growl, "Roddey Railroad", but something tells me it was more complex than that.

Yesterday's 5-2 vote was one of the last remaining approvals needed to get the controversial project, a decade in the making, off the ground, or in this case, into it. Voting against the contract were directors James Dodaro and Joan Ellenbogen. (P-G, Mark Belko, 7/14/2006)

While Mr. Onorato wants to hold down the cost, he said he believes the project should go forward.

"It's use it or lose it," he said of the federal funding, "so we're going to move ahead, it appears, with the Port Authority's vote today. We've got to make sure, though, this becomes part of the overall linkage [to Oakland and the convention center]."

At a Pop City forum on mass transit last year, Port Authority director Steve Bland more or less explicitly guaranteed that there would be no further expansion of light rail (or any transit infrastructure) in the moderate or even forseeable future -- but I guess that was before the age of economic stimulus and infrastructure spending and President Santa Claus.

At any rate -- can we get that rehash? Some sources seem to trace it's genesis back to 1999. Could it have been nothing more than the bowdlerized, transmogrified consolation appendage of what was once an ambitious maglev proposal? The timing seems about right.


  1. Re: the connector, we did a story about this a couple years back.

    (The spacing of paragraphs in that piece is a little wonky -- some of the stuff done before the new web site was created didn't translate all that great.)

    The short answer is that the connector is the result of a toxic combination of bureaucratic inertia, and government shortsightedness.

  2. Bad policy and bad option. Hindsight is 20/20, especially when you're peddling a new prescription on how to build for the future. Such as, infrastructure investment based on "merit and accountability at all levels of government."

    I felt that most people outside of the boardroom would have preferred the optional rail line, which ran up to 12th street, crossed the allegheny on an existing rail bridge, then headed towards the stadia via elevated rail. Nice plan: reuse of existing infrastructure and greater service to the Northside/ North Shore area.

    They'll get the necessary funds, just not all at once. There's another 2 years or so in anticipated construction. Over that time Congress will have passed one and perhaps two stimulus bills, as well as, a successor to the SAFETEA-LU bill that expires this September.

  3. We elected Ravenstahl, Onorato,and Rendell. That's the tragedy. Maybe they should have fought harder for maglev as a true regional transit solution. But a new push by the Las Vegas Mayor and his desire to have a maglev system built from L.A. to Vegas will probably get done.

    Since the N Side Boys and fast Eddie care more about their futures than ours and their heavy campaign support for Hilary, we'll all end up riding bikes. Thanks fellas. Our political leadership is a joke. I'll vote for Dowd for mayor, unless Dan the 'tax man' does a poll and throws Opie under the bus and runs for Mayor, then I'll vote for Robinson.

    I'm voting with my feet.

  4. Voting with your feet is much easier now with the touch screens. I tried it with the old lever machines and it took forever.

  5. Rendell is only interested in anything that might take resources away from the DISASTROUS Mon-Fay Expressway, so his cronies can make money pouring concrete for a road we don't need...the North Shore Connector is an excellent project that apparently will only be appreciated by future generations who can ditch their cars and take transit....

  6. Perhaps ACE will affix his moniker on the touchstone voting machines like Opie does the trash cans. Either way the voting machines and trash cans have as much value here in Western Pennsyl-tucky as the North Shore Connector does.

  7. Could anon 10:12 please finish their thought? Take transit... to where precisely?

    I'll drive into Pittsburgh, park at the north shore and hop on the train to downtown. Brilliant! I certainly couldn't take a bus from the suburbs which would conveniently convey myself to one of the north shore stops, could I now?

    Or one better, I'll drive into Pittsburgh, park (ditch my car) downtown and hop on the train to the north shore. Once there I'll...

    One half billion of our depreciating Dollars per mile is a conservative estimate to extend the north shore light rail into the western neighborhoods. Where people can leave their cars at home, walk a few blocks to a rail stop and commute into downtown. Or we pay a few million more per year to PAT and they can continue to run their buses on the roads - infrastructure they're not obligated to maintain.

    Smelly buses will always be more cost effective than slick interurbans.

  8. N' loser. Other regions of the country are tripping over themselves to develop and build light rail transit systems...and that is a major reason why they are growing and flourishing...leave to typical pittsburghers like N'at to be so shortsighted and not recognize the value of having a first class transit system to the health of your wonder this town is dying with idiots like ed Rendell and N'at unable to comprehend even the most basic ideas about how to move this region forward.

  9. Loser? Idiots? Get a grip put down the coffee cup, A.

  10. rofl. You're referring to the American Southwest? Oregon? Cali? Other regions which are building light rail are doing so because they don't have pre-existing mass transit to the same extent that we do. Why would we want to overburden the system by creating parallel infrastructure, if it's not cost effective? Because it looks and smells nice? Because it's new and "forward thinking?"

    Forward thinking is a busway which conveys more people at less the cost than light rail. Forward thinking is an elected official appointing individuals with mass transit experience to the Port Authority Board.

    Pittsburgh is way ahead of most cities with respect to transportation development, except for other early industrial cities like LA, NYC, Boston and Chicago. LA had interurbans in the early 1900s built to places like Culver City and San Bernardino, which where replaced and reduced due to car culture. Same goes for Chicago and Pittsburgh. Our only problem - if you wish to use the term - is that our transit hasn't shifted it's routes to our commuting needs. In that regard, I contend that it's easier to move a bus to where the people are and wish to go, than to bore a new route.

  11. The thing with this region is that the Democrats are schizophrenic. They sort of support typical liberal issues, like transit and a woman's right to chose. But our leaders realize much of the city's population is older (and older people actually vote) and also realize that religion plays somewhat of role around here, and that surrounding areas are even more conservatives (ie all voted for McCain), so it is abstinence only education in the schools and "right-sizing" transit. Now Ed Rendell appeaqrs to have done a 180 on the North Shore Connector. Is he running for Arlen's seat?

    The PBS show "Now" had an interesting piece n how Charlottesville's Republican Mayor has come out strongly in support of a new light rail system there. They built new stations and lots of wide sidewalks to retail and residential development around the stations. Meanwhile, we have a tunnel connecting a downtown that is mostly empty at night with sports facilities that are deserted when games or concerts aren't going on. ANd we have feer buses going to both areas now than even a few years ago. argh.

  12. What a Hoss. Our North Shore Connector is a tragic mistake, and the funds should have been used in other ways, but his comcast tower just had to be built in Center City Philly? BTW, David L. Cohen, Comcast Corp.'s executive vice president, was a top aide to Rendell. Just sayin'.

  13. Nathaniel HornblowerFebruary 19, 2009 at 3:56 PM

    Shoulda, coulda, woulda.... And low, upon reading remarks uttered by a governor they so dispise, the Elightened Progressives, having been bestowed with the assurance that theirs is the path of goodness, righteousness and justice, emboldened by a sense of reason few possess and others can comprehend, thoughtfully and passionately illuminate the blogosphere with a woefully late condemnation of the North Shore connector project. Where was the definitive call for this project to hault five years ago?

    Nevermind that completion of this project will mean that we can one day finally replace the absolute mother-of-all-transit-boondoggles, the I-279 north HOV lanes with a light rail line. Of course doing so will mean that the solution to all of our transit problems, Maglev, will once again languish somewhere in the land-of-projects-progressives-love-that-nobody-understands. Not that anyone bothered to examine the evidence that Maglev is at least as much of a boondoggle, if not more so than any other transit project. That would be enough to render most ideas dead on arrival. That the estimated per-passenger costs are over and above any other system currently operating is obviously not enough of a deterrence, nor that Maglev is simply not sustainable.

  14. So the Connector is our Pittsburgh version of NYC's failed WestWay of the late 60's and 70's. It only took us say 40 years, but doesn't it give us some street cred with the big boy cities on the coast?

    To Lady Elaine's note about Rendll and Comcast:

    "Now I know"

  15. Mr. Hornblower,

    High-Speed Maglev was a stimulus package of sorts as it was originally defined as a demonstration project. Because the lack of leadership within the region (you'll recall the locals decided that slow speed would have been better going from Mellon Arena to Grant Street would have been a better demonstration project) put the project to death because of competing agendas and the need to line certain pockets. When we couldn't our heads around which Maglev of the day to support, 43 pulled the plug to it and well the rest is history.


  16. Nathaniel HornblowerFebruary 19, 2009 at 4:42 PM

    Why wait for leadership that is compatable with your own convictions? Get done do what others have failed to do. Run for elected office. Lead.

  17. Mr. Hornblower,


    I did hear David Plouffe is in town on Monday, perhaps he'll sign on with me.

  18. Mag-lev, Acela, high-speed rail, wuteva you wanna label it, I see as a wonderful option to exurban commutes and domestic air travel.

    If and when... I still have my MagLev cap :D

    If we had the rail corridors inplace, then 3 hour trips from here to Chicago, NYC, DC, etc. would be attainable and *hopefully* sustainable. As it stands, we cannot reach high speeds on the existing tracks because the track and the turns will not allow it. Need straighter routes and fat pipes. toot! toot!

  19. Onorato Surprised, Confused By Governor's Comment (KDKA). Note he didn't defend the actual project -- nobody has, except for Midshipman Hornblower that is, for the longest time -- but he did point out the cost of stopping at this point.

    I recommend the City Paper article linked up above for some background, but it still doesn't get to what I feel like must be there; some Port Authority board member has to have had a nephew that owned a giant boring machine at some point.

  20. I agree about our legislature and many politicians not being very forward thinking. We always seem to be the last, or at least, we have a wait-and-see attitude. Then we tread carefully.

    When was the last time PA did anything forward thinking? CHIP? Gus, the Second-Most Famous Groundhog?

    Lets play a game . . . Does anyone know which non-Southwest "forward thinking" state asked for $100 million for an environmental and engineering passenger rail impact study; $100 million to build an intercity passenger rail service; $185 million for their downtown streetcar system; $200 million for a particular county to build a light rail; $62.9 million to rehabilitate their rail stations, tracks bridges, electrical substations, etc.; $50 million for an extension of a bus service along a well-used corridor; it goes on and on and on. . .

    Any guesses????? They are always in the news for their forward thinking (note I am dripping with sarcasm).

    The state basically says (yes grammar bullies I know states can't talk), we are programmed to plow money into roads and bridges as a quick way to boost jobs, but we are overdependant on driving.

    Okay. Ready for this forward-thinking, too reliant upon gas state????


    Yes, the state that up until appx, ten years ago, allowed cars falling a part with rust to past inspection.

    You can pick yourself up from off the floor now.

    The best part is, they will likely get most of the money they requested.

    So what does this have to do with the North shore connector?

    The connector offers a way for people going from downtown who yes, drive in and park their cars, to then attend events on the Northshore. It lightens congenstion. In the future, it will hopefully be the beginning of an extention to lightrail service to the northshore and north hills.

    Is it a complete bass-ackwards way to doing it? Probably. But I guess its with any project--you only get so much money for things, so you do what you can and build on it.

    I think I am going to keep writing, so I really have to stop here.

  21. The new light rail extension wont just connect Downtown with the North Shore. It will also connect a ton of South Hills Suburbs with the North shore.

    I would have preferred Roddey, Santorum, & Specter (I don't know why everyone is blaming Rendel this is overwhelmingly a federally funded project) spent this money to connect Oakland. However, I think when the NC connector is done it will be nice and definitely cause a lot of people in the southern suburbs to ditch their cars when they are going to the North Shore.

    At least this money wasn't wasted on the ten billion dollar business/home destroying Mon/Fay tollway to West Virginia.

    Hopefully, the next Federal Transportation Bill will defund the Mon/Fay and instead build on the investment in the NC Connector by making it the first segment of a fully funded east/west light rail line.

  22. Wake up, people! the northshore connector will NEVER open for public use...This is going to sound crazy, BUT...It was only built as a safe haven for government officials for when the crap hits the fan in 2012...UNDER the river. Look, Pittsburgh has four rivers, one of them underground, it feeds the point. The mayans said that this intersection of the four rivers would be one of seven places in the world that would be "safe places". This may also lend some reservations as to why the G20 summit was held in Pittsburgh this year. I believe possibly the REASON that it will be a safe haven, is because of the tunnel under the river. I believe that a chosen few will use this tunnel as a place of refuge, and all by design. I mean, wtf? they bore the tunnels, get most of it finished, and then suddenly stop everything, and say it was all a mistake? They are way over budget, and cant continue? WHAT????!!!!! Id be real curious to see if that tunnel is, or will be sealed off at either side......Sounds crazy, but think about it!