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East Liberty transit project shrinks as construction costs top estimates

| Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 12:44 a.m.

Officials planning the centerpiece of a $127 million East Liberty transit-oriented development had to scale back some of the project's fancier designs, including a stone walkway and lighted handrails, after bids for the project came in over budget.

Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority officials voted on Thursday to re-advertise for bids for construction of the East Liberty Transit Center along the East Busway and said they met individually with contractors to revise bid specifications to reduce costs.

“We redesigned the project and removed a lot of the ‘gingerbread,' ” URA spokeswoman Gigi Saladna said. “The basic design remains.”

The entire development has different parts, but URA officials declined to say what they anticipated to spend for the transit center portion of the project. Bids from three contractors — Gulisek, Golden Triangle and Mosites — ranged from $13.79 million to $13.89 million.

Among the scaled-back designs, according to Saladna: replacing stone walkways with plain concrete, replacing stone benches with conventional benches, replacing laminated glass shields along the pedestrian bridge with chain-link fencing, replacing landscaping with plain grass, eliminating lighted handrails in favor of regular handrails, and replacing the designed bus canopies along Penn Avenue with standard bus shelters.

The basic design remains, Saladna said, including a redesigned busway station, a new pedestrian bridge connecting Ellsworth Avenue with the improved bus stops along Penn Avenue near the Target store, and a wide pedestrian walkway from the bus station to a park area at the intersection of Ellsworth, Shady and Penn avenues.

Demolition for the project began last month. Plans call for clearing land north of the busway to make way for a 550-space parking garage, a new street and later, residential buildings.

Nate Cunningham, director of real estate development for the nonprofit East Liberty Development Inc., which focuses on revitalizing East Liberty, said the rebid does not concern him but it could cause a delay.

“The demolition is moving forward. Maybe it will be a bit delayed, but I don't think they're surprised or we're surprised that they have to do some jockeying around,” Cunningham said.

The project's $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. Construction of the transit shelters, parking garage and landscaped access points was expected to be completed by June 2015.

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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