Monday, June 1, 2009

Too late to help 28?

As time slooooowly passes between the myriad of studies and actual construction on a commuter rail line between New Kensington and Pittsburgh, I am constantly reminded why I think this commuter line is a good idea. I am also constantly frustrated by the fact that if it weren't for the 42,352 studies that were required, maybe this rail line could already be doing some good.

A major justification for this commuter service is the fact that the line parallels route28, 28 is busy, and 28 is undergoing some major construction (translation, Route 28 is a pain in the arse). Apparently, now 28 outbound will be closed through October. However, if the service doesn't begin operation until AFTER construction is completed on 28, then that reason loses a lot of its luster. I know this latest round of construction is not the last for 28, but the overall improvement project is supposed to continue through 2010. Even if the 28 project is delayed (as it most likely will be), there is yet to be any kind of target date for the commuter operation to start.

I know a major transportation project like a commuter line can't be made to "turn on a dime". The time from inception to operation is long. However, in the case of this project, and many others in Pittsburgh, that time becomes even more drawn out. The first study for this project was completed 9 years ago in 2000. Here we are in 2009 and the same study has just been completed...again. It's not like they had to acquire right of way begin new construction of a rail line. That's nine years that the same right of way has sat there seeing under 10 trains a week.

I do realize a couple of important caveats:
#1. I'm sure the information from a 9 year old study could be seen as out of date, especially by opponents of the proposed project.
#2. 2000 was not the transit friendly environment that 2009 is. In 2000 gas was cheap, the economy was doing well, and global warming was nothing more than an outdated buzzword from the 90's.

This project isn't the only one in Pittsburgh to languish for years. The first one that comes to mind is the Spine Line. The first study took place in 1993. It's now 2009 and we have a tiny little piece of what was supposed to be and the price just keeps climbing on finishing it off. Let's say, for sake of argument, that an LRT Spine Line to Oakland is finished in 6 years (very optimistic, I know). That would put it at 2016. Think about that, 23 years to get at most 5 miles of new track.

I'm certainly not trying to say that if the rail line doesn't commence operations before this 28 project is complete then the line will be a waste. However, I see the operation losing out on some major opportunities, like being able to gain more riders early on and helping to reduce construction delays along 28. The way transit projects in Pittsburgh seem to run, I will be happy to have anything at all!


Paz said...

Role reversal! I thought you were going to be the optimistic good cop and I was going to be the disillusioned bad cop!

You're right, of course. I think that angst at 28 could build over the summer to where people wish commuter rail was an option, but we had better capitalize on that quickly before people figure out how much better the new 28 will be.

Still the Underground wasn't built in a day. And unless there is a concerted effort at all federal, state, and local levels, projects will continue to inch along. And not to toot our own horns, but that's what transit advocates are here for: to keep these projects in the public conscience.

East Busway Blogger said...

Sometimes the frustration with transit projects brings out the pessimist in me.

Just for fun (I have an odd concept of fun) I went back through Post and typed "commuter rail" in the search function. There is a litany of stories that go back over eight years and all say the same thing. How commuter rail is feasible and just around the corner. Yet it's now nearly halfway through 2009 and we MAY be making strides towards completion (I'll be more inclined to believe it when I see Maintenance of Way Equipment actually repairing the line). It's frustrating, and I thought maybe it is just the nature of the beast.

Then I looked up the Rail Runner commuter service in New Mexico. I guess there were many years where it was talked about but nothing was done. However, once the first study was commissioned in 2003, it took only three years from inception to the first run. That's impressive! That's a model to shoot for. I guess a big key to its success was the fact that the governor of New Mexico was a STRONG advocate of the service.

John said...

Could the Route 28 problem be solved by an extension of the busway coupled with a number of large park and ride lots?

I like the rail option but don't think there are enough riders to warrant frequent service. I drive on 28 each day but my job doesn't make it easy to leave at 5 p.m. nor is it easy to begin the day exactly at 8:30 a.m.

Riders demand frequent service for transit to be used. The busway could be extended along Washington Blvd. and go north along either shore of the river. There is an existing rail bridge that isn't used crossing the Allegheny near the Highland Park Bridge. I think the bus option would be much more viable than the train. The busway could run on the rail right of way on the east side of the river.

East Busway Blogger said...

A busway would certainly be an option, and I agree it could be a good one. If you've ever gone to my google maps page, there's a section for expanded busways which includes a line to Fox Chapel using the brilliant branch right of way (currently owned by the AVRR and used rarely to service the big scrap yard underneath the highland park bridge in Sharpsburg). The only problem about that option is that you and I are the only ones talking about it.

I do believe there is ridership to support commuter rail, however. I don't think it could be on the scale of a New Jersey Transit or SEPTA, which basically runs from 4 AM to midnight every day.

I do think it could work along the same lines as the VRE (Virginia Rail Express) which concentrates its operations around the morning and evening rush with no organic afternoon, weekend or holiday service and enjoys excellent ridership.

Without having seen the plan, I would imagine they (PAAC or WCTA) would focus on service during those two peak periods thus providing people with options. i.e. allow a person with a semi-irregular schedule, such as yourself with several options, as long as you go to work in the morning and come home in the evening.

I understand your point and its well taken, but at this point, considering how long it takes to get anyting accoplished transit wise in this city and region, we should not back off on our support of this project.