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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/Pittsburgh Stage II Light Rail Transit

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Pittsburgh Stage II Light Rail Transit

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

(November 1998)


The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) has undertaken reconstruction of the 25-mile Pittsburgh rail system to modern light rail standards. The Stage I Light Rail Transit (LRT) project resulted in the reconstruction of a 13-mile system to light rail standards during the 1980s. The Stage II LRT project proposes reconstruction of the remaining 12 miles of the system consisting of the Overbrook, Library, and Drake trolley lines.

The Stage II LRT project would reconstruct these three lines to modern LRT standards, double track the single track segments, reopen the closed Overbrook Line, replace antiquated trolleys with new light rail vehicles, and add approximately 2500 park and ride spaces and 28 new light rail vehicles.

The estimated cost of this project is $512.5 million (in escalated dollars). In 2015, the estimated daily ridership for Stage II is expected to be 25,000 with over 49,000 riders for the entire light rail system.

Pittsburgh Stage II Light Rail Transit Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Line;
reconstruction of former rail (trolley) lines;
12 miles
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $512.50 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $162.60 million
Annual Operating Cost ($1997) $25.60 million
Ridership Forecast (2015) 25,000 daily boardings
9,000 daily new riders
FY 2000 Financial Rating: Low- Medium
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Not Recommended

The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


The Federal Transit Administration issued a Finding of No Significant Impact for the project in February 1996. Environmental documentation for the park and ride lots, which was not included in the Environmental Assessment, is under review. Preliminary Engineering was substantially completed in April 1998 and is being finalized. Some elements of the project have proceeded into final design. The drafting of vehicle specifications is being completed. The project is included in the financially constrained long range plan adopted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning Commission, the Pittsburgh area MPO.

Section 3030(a)(98) of the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorize the "Pittsburgh – Stage II Light Rail" for final design and construction. In FY 1999, Congress appropriated $3.97 million of Section 5309 New Starts funds for the project. Through FY 1999, $102.7 million in Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization funds, including local match, have been appropriated to this project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. N/A indicates that the data are not available for a specific measure.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

PAAC estimates the following annual travel time savings.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 2.7 million 1.3 million

Based on 1990 Census data, there are an estimated 650 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of stations of the proposed Stage II Light Rail project.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area is a moderate non-attainment area for ozone. PAAC estimates that in 2015, the Stage II LRT would result in the following annual emissions reductions.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 82 annual tons decrease of 55 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 10 annual tons decrease of 6 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) decrease of 11 annual tons decrease of 7 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) decrease of 1 annual ton No change
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 921 annual tons decrease of 1,096 annual tons

In 2020, the Stage II LRT project is estimated to result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTU).

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 9,395 million annual BTU decrease of 13,662 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Not Rated

Information is not available on the systemwide operating cost per passenger mile.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile N/A N/A N/A

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium-High

PAAC estimates the following cost effectiveness indices.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $10.50 $7.00

Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and escalated dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Low-Medium

The Low-Medium Land Use rating reflects the low residential and employment densities in most of the corridor. The Stage II LRT alignment traverses older small communities, as well as massive forest and agricultural lands, in outlying areas and a compact and relatively dense CBD. The CBD contains a high amount of employment as well as other major trip generators and growing residential and entertainment uses. CBD zoning allows high-density development and parking incentives for transit proximity businesses, with consideration underway for further residential and other non-office uses. In contrast to the CBD, there are no major employment centers or trip generators, except for a shopping mall, elsewhere in the corridor, and only limited opportunities exist for additional residential and neighborhood commercial development. The number and location of stations for the Stage II LRT has not yet been determined.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Plan recommends specific policies and actions to increase commercial, retail, and residential development downtown and to improve the pedestrian streetscape, including implementation of a TIF district for new office development to support a new rail station. The Port Authority has identified several, although relatively minor, joint development opportunities along the corridor. However, no other specific policies supportive of transit-oriented development in the Stage II LRT corridor have been established, nor is there any indication of local municipal interest in significantly changing the nature or scale of development in the corridor or adjacent to transit stations.

Other Factors

The Stage II LRT involves reconstruction of an existing line to improve the level of transit service for existing users in the corridor. Land uses along the parallel Stage I corridor are more supportive of transit, but this route is slower for commuters from the southern half of Allegheny County. The Stage II LRT is in part a response to service issues created by the existing high intensity of land uses, and resulting high number of stops and trips, along the Stage I line.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 New Starts Share of Total Project Costs: 68%

The Port Authority proposes $162.60 million (31.7 percent) in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the project. A major component of proposed project funding is $111.7 million (21.8 percent) in Section 5309 Fixed Guideway formula money. PAAC has banked about 65 percent of its 5309 Fixed Guideway formula funds over the last seven years for Stage II LRT (totaling $102.7 million, including the 20 percent local match), as it is rebuilding and extending an existing rail system. PAAC has earmarked another $56.3 million in future Fixed Guideway funds for the Stage II LRT, which also includes the 20 percent local match. PAAC also proposes use of $125.70 million (24.5 percent) in Federal flexible funds. In sum, the Stage II LRT project costs would be 78 percent Federally funded, with $112.50 million or 22 percent funding from State and local sources.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Low

The capital financing plan is rated Low based on the uncertainties associated with the proposed funding strategies, as well as financing the projected short term deficits. Although the PAAC is a very strong, financially conservatively run transit agency, nearly ¼ of the proposed project financing, $125.7 million, relies on Federal flexible funds. PAAC is assured of getting only $5.07 million of these flex funds, or 1.0 percent of project funding. For about 90 percent of the remaining flex funds, PAAC is looking to new flex funds apportioned by the State under TEA-21 to try to bypass the MPO (requiring a veto by the MPO if the State approves), and about 10 percent directly from the MPO. The MPO has been reluctant to provide this level of funding in the past. Therefore, the ability of PAAC to obtain the needed flex funds is uncertain.

Additionally, PAAC has projected an unfunded deficit for years 2001-2003 totaling $81 million (15 percent of project cost). To finance these shortfalls, PAAC proposes to get the State or Allegheny County to advance funding (an action for which there is precedent in recent past), or to temporarily borrow some of the Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization or Section 5307 formula block grant monies received annually. It is reasonable to expect that PAAC could procure $11 million short term, but PAAC would have to issue tax exempt commercial paper for two years to fund approximately $30 million shortfall in 2002 and 2003. Interest and underwriting costs for such an issuance could add about $2 million to project costs.

Local funding is considered secure based on an earmark in the State’s budget and the past performance of Allegheny County providing its share of project capital costs.

However, the integration of the Stage I and Stage II projects has resulted in a 4 percent ($19.60 million) increase of project costs over the past year, while an additional $30 million worth of new cost items have been added to the Stage II project. Further, PAAC has reduced its capital cost contingency factor by 2 percent, while allowing less margin for overrun. A range of $50 to $90 million in additional Stage I project costs are expected to be financed with Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization funds, substantially reducing the availability of these funds as a reserve for capital funding of Stage II LRT for Federal shortfalls or project cost overruns.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High operating finance plan rating reflects the reliable State support of transit operating subsidies. PAAC’s operations are financially sound, with the agency running a small surplus for two of the past three years. Twenty-one percent of total expenses are covered by farebox revenues. Pennsylvania has recently approved enhanced funding for transit operating subsidies in the State, resulting in 14 percent of total expenses being covered by dedicated State forumla funds, and an additional 9.5 percent being covered by non-dedicated State operating assistance. Allegheny County must also match the fixed percentage of total State operating assistance directly appropriated annually from the State budget at a 1 to 3 ratio. The remainder of PAAC’s operating expenses are expected to be covered by a combination of other State and Federal funding sources. The Stage II LRT project is estimated to have minimal impact on both system revenues and system operating costs.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $162.60 $3.97 million appropriated through FY 1999
Flexible Funds $125.70 $102.70 million appropriated through FY 1999
Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization $111.70


Commonwealth of Pennsylvania $85.42


Allegheny County $17.08


City of Pittsburgh $10.00


Total: $512.50

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Pittsburgh Stage II LRT Map (PDF)]

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact