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 I'm sure the information from a 9 year old study could be seen as out of date, especially by opponents of the proposed project.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 In 2000 gas was cheap, the economy was doing well, and global warming was nothing more than an outdated buzzword from the 90's.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!
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