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East End busway project roars ahead in job expected to bolster East Liberty

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 11:57 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Fences surround the construction site as demolition continues in East Liberty, Wednesday, October 9, 2013, to make way for the new transit center next to the East Busway.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Demolition continues in East Liberty, Wednesday, October 9, 2013, to make way for the new transit center next to the East Busway.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Demolition continues in East Liberty, Wednesday, October 9, 2013, to make way for the new transit center next to the East Busway.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Demolition continues in East Liberty, Wednesday, October 9, 2013, to make way for the new transit center next to the East Busway.

Demolition crews began tearing down buildings this week in East Liberty to clear the way for a $127 million transit-oriented development that includes making access to the East Busway easier.

Crews fenced off areas across the street from the Target store and closed pedestrian walkways over the busway, the first noticeable changes in the long-planned Eastside development.

“I forgot they closed the walkway. That's a pain, but I like the (plans) — once it's finished,” said Donna Terry, 55, of East Liberty. “Now that it's started, don't say you ran out of money and then go elsewhere for another project.”

The plans call for clearing the land north of the busway to make way for a 550-space parking garage, a new street and, later, residential buildings. The demolition includes a former tennis center and a Citizen's Bank drive-through. South of the busway will be landscaped paths that will allow people to walk easily from Penn and Shady avenues to the busway. The plans include bus shelters on both sides of the busway, said Rebecca Schenck, a project development specialist for the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

“It's an exciting project. It adds to connectivity and other development on that side of Penn Avenue,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “There will be bike access, pedestrian access; it just adds to what's happening there in the East End.”

Demolition is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Construction of the transit shelters, parking garage and landscaped access points is expected to be completed by June 2015. Construction of the residential buildings, which is expected to have 360 rental units, is scheduled to start then, Schenck said.

The $127 million price tag includes $23.5 million of public funds, such as grants and money from a Transit Revitalization Improvement District, which funnels money to infrastructure improvements in lieu of tax payments.

“I think it's a great project,” said Takisha Doss, 35, of Garfield, who uses the busway. “I think it'll make a better turnout for East Liberty. With them rebuilding everything, it's better for this area.”

Other parts of the Eastside development included Whole Foods, Walgreen's and Target stores, Schenck said.

The Eastside development is one of seven projects under way in East Liberty. Other projects include completed renovations of the Highland and Wallace buildings, which have housing and floor-level retail space; two hotels; Bakery Square 2.0 and a future cineplex and restaurant plan.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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