Sunday, April 25, 2010

MVX Episode VII: Blue Harvest

In what surely is one of the penultimate nails in the coffin of the Mon-Fayette Expressway:

The Mon-Fayette Expressway might never reach Pittsburgh, now that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission no longer is pursuing private investors.

The $4.5 billion estimate for the remainder of the project includes connecting to the Parkway East in Monroeville and in Hazelwood, but the price tag is too steep for state funding, officials said. And three companies interested in "public-private partnerships" to build the remainder of the highway — in exchange for toll revenue — couldn't raise enough private funding either, said Frank Kempf, the turnpike's chief engineer, during a meeting Thursday in Washington County...

The turnpike decided in late January to stop pursuing partners for the project. Unless state or federal legislators find new funding to design and build the remaining links to Pittsburgh, the future of the project remains unknown...
And hopefully by "unknown" they mean 'buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighter', all of which is fine by me; the project (especially the last 10 miles) is beyond ridiculous from an engineering standpoint, would disrupt communities, and frankly bring little benefit to the Pittsburgh of the 21st century.

The collapse of the housing industry only serves to undermine one of the main "benefits" of the project: the opening up of greenfields to the south of the City to more suburban subdivisions.

Anyway, here's a novel (or at least what passes for novel around these parts) idea, spurred by a musing by Rear Adm. Briem (Ret.):
[A]t the end of the day the foundation of the East Busway was engineered with the intent that rail of some sort could be built along the corridor... Once you take out folks who can't travel by car either because of income or for other reasons, folks who have a choice will take rail who won't ever consider taking a bus.
Indeed, when the busway expansion was planned in the late '90s/early '00s, the folks in Edgewood raised holy hell that damned dirty buses would pass through their gentile community.

Now, I understand why PAT *lurves* its busway and while associated municipal entities/political mucky-mucks also *lurve* in a way that is frankly illegal in most countries, but there is a case to be made for (1) converting at least part of the busway to light rail and (2) using the existing CSX tracks to serve Oakland/Hazelwood/Homestead and eventually beyond. While the upfront capital cost may be high (and the negotiations with CSX may be ridiculous), a dedicated right-of-way would connect downtown, the universities, one of the largest brownfield development opportunities in the City, a fairly successful brownfield redevelopment, and a few muncipalities that really need improved transportation connections to all of them.
Peduto had pushed a somewhat similar heavy rail project back in '08, but it hasn't seems to have gone anywhere; the ACCD is pushing a fixed guideway (which would be a fourth mode of transit, for those of you keeping track). There's something to be said, however, about keeping with what you have and expanding a system.

While, yes, the SPC came out almost kinda-sorta-but-not-quite for this plan (warning: big file), the proposed alternative was, I would say, a bit grandiose and chose to build an extensive system from Etna to West Mifflin, creating a new line through the Strip District, rather than recycle what already exists. There's *big thinking* and there's *over thinking*. Interestingly enough, the major complaint was that they looked at the new line as something to help supplement existing transit oriented development, while ignoring the possibility that it could potentially help to generate transit oriented development. That seems to be *small thinking* or at least *narrow* thinking.

Of course, the benefits of this type of project would acrue, not to the suburbs, but to the City which could now easily connect future lab space in Hazelwood with the professors in Oakland and the banks downtown. That kind of forward thinking is something up with which the legislature does not put. And to make it worse, we'd be severely conveniencing people in the Mon Valley, making their trip to work or school easier, quicker, and more enjoyable. The horror!

If the MFX is well and truly dead (and I hope it is), now is really the time to start planning its alternative. Perhaps what PAT and the folks at the DoT really need is a big ol' money sink. If that's the case, I'm more than happy to amend my proposal to call for the boring of a giant tunnel under the Mon to waste a few billion here and there.


Anonymous said...

Does this mean Joe Kirk will retire?

MH said...

I'm fine with them connecting the MFX to the Parkway in Monroeville just as long as they don't link in Hazelwood and somebody else pays for it. I have no intention of spending my mornings waiting to get on the Parkway while every yahoo from Irwin skips past. As nature intended, they are supposed to get held-up at the tunnel while I dash on a few hundred yards up.