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Allegheny

Pittsburgh International CEO: 'We'll be ready' if light rail to airport ever happens

Theresa Clift
| Wednesday, April 4, 2018, 4:40 p.m.

There might still be hope for a long-discussed idea to extend Port Authority of Allegheny County's light-rail system nearly 20 miles to Pittsburgh International Airport.

In response to an audience question at Wednesday's annual “State of the Airport” event at the Westin Convention Center, Downtown, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said the plan for the airport's new landside terminal includes right-of-way access for a light-rail connection.

“We're not going to preclude any future opportunities should they become available,” Cassotis said. “We are looking for any and all opportunities to improve the ground access to the airport.”

The $1.1 billion the airport plans to spend to rebuild the terminal could not be used to fund the light-rail expansion because the Federal Aviation Administration would not allow it, Cassotis said.

“So the best we can do is pay for anything that hits our property, and if that ever becomes available, we'll be ready,” Cassotis said. “Up until that, I think Katharine (Eagan Kelleman, new Port Authority CEO) has some incredibly innovative and forward-thinking ideas, short term and long term, for what we can do in the meantime,” Cassotis said.

The authority is not ready to share any of those ideas publicly, said Adam Brandolph, Port Authority spokesman.

Asked whether the authority is pursuing the rail extension, Brandolph said: “It's always been a regional goal, and certainly we are interested in a project that would include rail to the airport. But it's not something we are actively working on.”

Port Authority has a bus that travels every half-hour daily to the airport from Oakland, Downtown and Robinson Town Center, Brandolph said.

In 2013, officials considered expanding the light-rail system 18 miles from the Allegheny Station through the North Hills to Cranberry. That project had a cost estimate of more than $1.3 billion at the time.

The airport is nearly 20 miles from any current T station.

“We're obviously talking about a multi-billion-dollar investment for something along those lines, and we would certainly need a lot of help,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said during the event. “We'll get there, Congressman Lamb, we'll be coming to your office for that anytime soon,” Fitzgerald said with a laugh, looking at Congressman-elect Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, who was in the audience.

County officials said their current top mass transit priority is building a $195.5 million Bus Rapid Transit system between Oakland and Downtown. They are seeking $97.8 million in federal funding from a highly competitive federal grant program, and plan to start construction in 2019.

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

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