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Will Pittsburgh's marathon headache rebound?

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 10:21 p.m.
At the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Stanwix Street, Downtown, signs for this weekend's Pittsburgh Marathon rise like skyscrapers, Thursday, May 2nd, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
At the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Stanwix Street, Downtown, signs for this weekend's Pittsburgh Marathon rise like skyscrapers, Thursday, May 2nd, 2013.

Up to 200,000 people could flock to Pittsburgh for this weekend's running races and Pirates home games, straining a transportation system that faces numerous road closures and transit detours.

Officials insist they are ready to handle the crush of people and say a repeat of last year's problems the day of the Pittsburgh Marathon won't happen.'

“Last year was not ideal. We feel we are better prepared this year,” said Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie.

Marathon weekend a year ago, which featured a Pirates homestand and Marilyn Manson concert on the North Shore, was marred by a transit driver shortage that resulted in fewer trains, long delays and overcrowded stations along the T light-rail system.

Port Authority opened a $517 million T extension between Downtown and the North Shore about a month earlier. It didn't begin running trains in the area until almost 6 a.m., when check-in began.

Ritchie said that Port Authority surveyed about 3,500 marathoners to help plan for this year's event. About 21 percent said they intended to use public transportation and 24 percent were unsure. As a result, Ritchie said the agency will add extra trains and start service earlier.

On Sunday, Red Line trains will start running from South Hills Village in Upper St. Clair at 4:06 a.m., and Blue Line trains will start running from Library station in South Park at 4:16 a.m. Trains will arrive about every 15 minutes at stations between South Hills Junction and the North Shore's Allegheny Station starting about 4:30 a.m. Rides are free in Downtown and the North Shore.

Inbound bus service on Port Authority's East and West busways will start around the same time. The inclines will begin operating about 5 a.m.

About 50 bus routes will detour at multiple spots throughout the city until about 3 p.m. Sunday because of street closures. Downtown buses will reroute to serve stops near the Steel Plaza T station at Sixth Avenue and Grant Street, while routes between Squirrel Hill and Oakland will not serve the latter neighborhood during the marathon. A free shuttle will take riders between the neighborhoods.

Smaller detours will occur for Saturday events such as the 5K race and children's marathon.

“I feel very confident that we'll be ready this year,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. He heavily criticized Port Authority's performance last year.

For motorists, marathon organizers are promoting a so-called “slingshot route” to navigate around street closures and within the interior of the race course. From the Parkway East's Grant Street exit, the route follows First Avenue, Ross Street and Bigelow Boulevard. From Bigelow, motorists can take Craig Street into Oakland, Centre Avenue into East Liberty or Penn Avenue into Point Breeze.

Organizers said the area between Stanwix and Smithfield streets and the Boulevard of the Allies and Liberty Avenue — dubbed the “Red Zone” — will be closed to traffic from 5 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. They recommend not parking in that area for those who might have to leave before 2:30 p.m.

PennDOT District 11 spokesman Steve Cowan said no major construction work is planned this weekend that would hamper marathon traffic. No restrictions will occur in the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, where recent closures because of a $49.5 million project have resulted in major tie-ups.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

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