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Steelers, casino to pick up T fares from North Shore to Downtown

The Steelers and Rivers Casino will underwrite the northernmost leg of the North Shore Connector, allowing Port Authority of Allegheny County to offer free T rides between the new Allegheny Station and Downtown for at least three years, the agency said Wednesday.

Port Authority struck a similar deal in December in which groups agreed to subsidize another portion of the $523.4 million light-rail extension that is opening next month.

Agency officials and observers say the deals could spur other local companies and organizations to pursue similar sponsorships on the T and bus routes. Revenue generated could help the cash-strapped agency and its riders, they said.

"We think that these last two deals absolutely will open the eyes of others in the community as to the possibilities that might exist within the Port Authority system regarding advertising and sponsorships," Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

Under the latest deal, the Steelers and Rivers Casino will pay the agency $200,000 in the first year, with $5,000 increases in each of the following two years, the agency said.

Of that, $40,000 a year will go toward buying advertising space in the new station at North Shore Drive and Reedsdale Street. The rest will go toward the agency's operating costs.

The agency and local groups, such as the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, continue to pursue a deal that might extend the T's free-fare zone to Station Square. Other possibilities exist along heavily used bus corridors such as the East Busway and Fifth and Forbes avenues, Ritchie said.

"There are all sorts of opportunities," said Ken Zapinski, executive vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

In December, the Pittsburgh Stadium Authority and Alco Parking Corp. agreed to subsidize free rides between Downtown and the new North Side Station under the West General Robinson Street garage. Ritchie said revenue from the two deals will cover all of the connector's operational costs.

"This (latest) agreement brings a tremendous level of transit service to the ever-growing North Shore, providing new opportunities to commuters, students and those heading for a little fun at the game or casino," Port Authority CEO Steve Bland said.

Steelers President Art Rooney II said the connector will help "build on the momentum and progress that is reshaping the North Shore."

Duquesne University marketing professor Audrey Guskey believes the money was well spent.

"Obviously, the Steelers don't need to do any marketing or advertising. We love them and they know that," Guskey said. "But with a big organization like them stepping in and helping out, I think you'll see others follow suit."

The connector is scheduled to open in March, extending the Port Authority of Allegheny County's T light-rail system into the North Shore via a tunnel under the Allegheny River.

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