Second Avenue loop eyed for transit project

| Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007

When regional leaders start pushing for a long-envisioned mass transit link to connect Oakland with Downtown, it will likely include a loop to Second Avenue in South Oakland and Hazelwood, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said Friday.

"There are a couple of proposals we are looking at right now," Onorato said at a forum hosted by the Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.

An elevated system traveling through the Panther Hollow-Junction Hollow area, possibly using steel- or rubber-wheeled vehicles, is among those options, he said at the forum at the Doubletree Pittsburgh Airport Hotel.

Onorato said, however, that no major new project -- including either a link from Downtown to Oakland or Downtown to the Pittsburgh International Airport -- will move forward until new federal funds become available.

There is no indication when that would happen, he said.

"I think Oakland would have a better chance of going first, one reason being that it's shorter and also because we already control rights of way," he said.

The county has been working with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and other organizations in the effort, Onorato said.

Providing additional access between Oakland and Second Avenue would be a positive step toward reaching the full potential of two developments along Second Avenue -- the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland and the former LTV coke mill site in Hazelwood, said Robert Stephenson, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp.

Officials expect both sites to attract companies who want to locate near hospital facilities and research universities in Oakland, but can't find space in that cramped neighborhood.

The RIDC is general partner in Almono L.P., a nonprofit partnership of four local foundations that purchased the 178-acre Hazelwood site in September 2002. Plans are for a $400 million development that could create 2,400 jobs and include housing, commercial space, community amenities and greenspace.

The city Urban Redevelopment Authority has outlined plans for a major expansion of the Pittsburgh Technology Center with as many as 11 new buildings.

A transit link could provide relief for the traffic bottleneck that often develops at the Bates Street intersection with Second Avenue, Stephenson said.

"We've talked many times about the need for transit that would serve Oakland and go through Panther Hollow," said Jim Richter, executive director of the Hazelwood Initiative, a community group.

"If not that, we'd like to see more dedicated bus service by the Port Authority that would loop from Oakland through Hazelwood. But the whole issue of funding is the question, particularly now that (deteriorated) bridges are going to start to take precedent."

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