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Rail line response lukewarm

| Friday, Sept. 18, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

Many neighbors who heard a proposal to build an East End Commuter Rail line connecting Lawrenceville, Oakland and Hazelwood expressed concerns that the project would skirt areas it intends to serve and could depend too heavily on new developments to bring riders.

Proponents of the rail line proposed by City Councilman Bill Peduto provided a rough outline of the project Wednesday at the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrenceville. It is meant to link developing areas, provide access to Oakland for two other proposed rail lines and be a shortcut for commuters heading north or south in an area where the main roads go mostly east-west.

For some at the meeting, the proposed stations were too far from where most people lived and from major destinations in Oakland, and too dependent upon other projects that are themselves very early in the planning stages.

"I think it's great for (Carnegie Mellon University), but it seems like it's missing out on a large source of population. It's too far to walk from UPMC Presbyterian or most of Pitt's campus," said Carrie Bruneck, 25, who works at UPMC. "People aren't going to take three forms of transportation to get where they're going."

Using an existing single-track freight railroad, the proposed line would run from Lower Lawrenceville parallel to the East Busway; under Neville Street in Oakland through a railroad tunnel; between Carnegie Mellon and the Carnegie Museum; then alongside Irvine Street to Hazelwood Avenue, said Richard Feder, director of transit planning for Seven Fields-based consultants Whitman, Requardt & Associates.

Potential station locations would be in Lawrenceville behind the former Iron City Brewery, in North Oakland near the intersection of Neville Street and Baum Boulevard, in Oakland in the valley below Forbes Avenue, and in Hazelwood near the former LTV Steel site, Feder said. In all four cases, the stations are near developments or potential developments they could be tied into.

But Mary Hartley, 43, complained the proposed Lawrenceville station would be too far from most homes -- Feder's presentation showed it would be more than a 10-minute walk from anywhere north of Arsenal Park -- and inaccessible to the elderly or disabled.

"We're not wedded to where the station is, just as long as it makes sense," Peduto said. "The reason all these buildings are here is because the railroads were here and came together here. Now we have empty warehouses and a freight railroad."

Planning and funding the project could take a year or two if they proceeded without delay, and the system could be up and running three to five years after that, he said.

Feder said the proposed station locations could tie into new residential and office development, when integration is easy, rather than being shoehorned into an existing neighborhood.

Peduto said riders could transfer to two other proposed commuter railroads being studied: one that would follow the Allegheny River up to Arnold and New Kensington, and one using Norfolk Southern tracks to Greensburg and Latrobe.

The city approved $9,000 to study the feasibility of the line and will hold another public hearing Oct. 1 in Oakland.

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