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Trump budget might nix funding for Pittsburgh bus rapid transit

Theresa Clift
| Monday, June 12, 2017, 4:24 p.m.
A computer rendering of a bus rapid transit stop in Pittsburgh.
Port Authority of Allegheny County
A computer rendering of a bus rapid transit stop in Pittsburgh.

President Trump's proposed infrastructure budget would nix federal funding to install a $233 million "light rail on wheels" system known as bus rapid transit between Downtown Pittsburgh and the city's Oakland neighborhood.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration sent a letter this month to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh stating the president's proposed budget includes no funding for new projects. That includes Pittsburgh's bus rapid transit plan that's been in the works for a decade but has not yet been submitted to be considered for a competitive federal funding program.

Officials planned to submit the project in the fall for funding under the FTA's Small Starts program, which falls under the Capital Federal Grant program, said Robert Rubinstein, URA's director.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told reporters in March they expected the project to score well in the selection process for federal grant funding, but if the proposed FTA cuts pass, the project wouldn't get that far.

The plan was for the federal grants to cover half of the project's estimated $233 million cost, with the rest coming from state and local sources, Fitzgerald said.

But Fitzgerald said he isn't worried the proposed budget will delay or kill the project, because he has heard from "many in our congressional delegation" that it will be amended, including the FTA cuts.

"I feel very confident it's going to move forward," Fitzgerald said. "This project has a tremendous amount of bipartisan support across the region."

He still expects the BRT system to be up and running by 2021.



If the budget passes with the FTA cuts, however, Rubinstein said he is not aware of other federal funding sources that could be pursued, meaning the project would be delayed.

In the meantime, Boston-based CDM Smith is continuing with environmental and engineering work this summer as planned. The firm is under a $2.4 million, two-year design contract with the Port Authority of Allegheny County for the project.

"We're just going to keep going ahead and submit an application ... in the optimistic viewpoint that if they do permit new projects, we want to make sure the BRT project is positioned to compete," Rubinstein said.

The planned BRT route would connect Downtown with Oakland, East Liberty, Homewood and Wilkinsburg via dedicated lanes on Forbes and Fifth avenues.

It would also include branches through Shadyside, East Liberty and Highland Park, where buses would not get dedicated lanes but would be able to go through traffic lights before regular traffic for a faster transit experience than on regular buses.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or Twitter @tclift.

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