Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/Stage II LRT Reconstruction

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Pittsburgh Stage II LRT Reconstruction

Pittsburgh, PA

(November 1999)

(click here for map)


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 and double-tracking 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 and Drake Lines, add approximately 2400 park and ride lots, and purchase 28 new light rail vehicles.

During 1999, PAAC reconfigured its rail improvement program to prioritize program needs against available funding. The modified New Starts project, the Stage II LRT Priority Program, would reconstruct the Overbrook Line and a portion of the Library Line, and add the 2400 park and ride spaces and 28 vehicles. The remainder of the Stage II LRT program would be built as funds become available. The estimated cost of the Priority Program is $383.7 million (in escalated dollars).

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Light Rail Line; reconstruction of former rail (trolley) lines;

10.7 miles, 21 stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

$ 383.7 million

Section 5309 Share ($YOE):

$ 100.2 million

Annual Operating Cost ($1999):

$  35.1 million

Ridership Forecast (2015):

24,000 avg. weekday boardings

9,800 daily new riders

FY 2001 Financial Rating:


FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:


FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:


The Recommended rating is based on the project’s generally adequate justification criteria and strong capital and operating finance plans. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. 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 completed in April 1998; final design, including vehicle procurement, is underway. The project is included in the financially constrained long range plan adopted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning Commission, the Pittsburgh area MPO.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(98) authorizes the "Pittsburgh – Stage II Light Rail" for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $11.82 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds to the project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. Criteria has been reported and evaluated on the Stage II LRT Priority Program. N/A indicates that the data are not available for a specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in final design.


The Medium project justification rating reflects the project’s adequate cost effectiveness and transit supportive land use, strong environmental benefits, and relatively weak mobility improvements.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low-Medium

PAAC estimates that the Stage II LRT Priority Program will result in the following annual travel time savings.


Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

 0.7 million

0.6 million

Based on 1990 Census data, there are an estimated 3622 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of proposed boarding points for the Stage II Priority Program.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

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


Criteria Pollutant

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)



Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)



Hydrocarbons (HC)



Particulate Matter (PM10)



Carbon Dioxide (CO2)



Values reflect annual tons of emissions reductions.

In 2015, the Stage II LRT Priority Program is estimated to result in the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTU).


Annual Energy Savings

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values reflect annual BTU reductions.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: High

PAAC estimates the following costs per passenger mile for the project.




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile




Values reflect 2015 ridership and 1998 dollars

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium

PAAC estimates the following cost effectiveness indices.



New Start vs.


New Start vs.


Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger



Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1998 dollars.



Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects transit supportive enhancements of the City of Pittsburgh’s land use policies despite the only moderate residential and employment densities in most of the corridor outside of the CBD.

Existing Conditions: The Stage II LRT alignment traverses older, small neighborhoods originally developed in the streetcar era with an orientation to the trolley line, as well as some forested areas and small-scale commercial developments, particularly in outlying areas. The relatively compact and high-density CBD is a regional employment center and includes retail, cultural, and entertainment activities, several colleges, and some residences. Total CBD employment is approximately 120,000 with nearly all of this within ½ mile of LRT and busway stations. Roughly half of downtown parking spaces are in fringe areas in accordance with the Pittsburgh Downtown Plan.

Most land uses along the corridor outside the CBD are low to medium density residential and a few commercial developments and institutional uses; a regional shopping mall is the only major trip generator outside the CBD. The hilly topography constrains growth within the already built-up corridor. There are approximately 32,500 thousand people living within ½ mile of Stage II stations. Paths and stairways connect adjacent neighborhoods to transit stations.

Future Plans and Policies: The Pittsburgh Urban Zoning Code permits high-intensity transit supportive development in the CBD as well as relatively high intensity residential development in city neighborhoods. Zoning has recently been revised to ensure that new developments include pedestrian-friendly design and provide access to transit facilities; some density bonuses are available. Pittsburgh has implemented a tax increment financing district for a new office development to support a new rail station. A few projects have been approved and proposals received for development along the Port Authority’s Stage I and Stage II LRT lines, although the scale of these projects is small. Current opportunities for development are limited and local municipalities do not promote significantly changing the nature or scale of development in the corridor or adjacent to transit stations. Local governments emphasize attracting new growth and redeveloping older communities rather than controlling development. Two municipalities in the corridor have adopted zoning to facilitate higher-intensity commercial and residential uses in station areas.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 New Starts Share of Total Project Costs: 74 %

The project’s financial plan proposes $100.20 million (26 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funding. Non-New Starts funding is proposed as follows: $113.2 million (30 percent) in Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization formula funds, $3.9 million (1 percent) in STP flexible funds, $111.8 million (29 percent) in Port Authority Act 26 bonds, $45.8 million (12 percent) in State bonds, and $8.9 million (2 percent) in Allegheny County

Capital Improvement Bonds. In sum, project costs would be approximately 57 percent Federally funded, with $166.4 million or 43 percent funding from State and local sources.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the strong financial condition of the PAAC and reliability of proposed funding sources, as well as the financial viability of the reduced cost project. During 1999, PAAC reconfigured its rail improvement program to match the availability of funds and scaled the new starts project back from $512.5 million reported for FY 2000 to the current $383.73 million Stage II Priority Program project.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The PAAC is a conservatively managed and financially strong transit agency. Long term debt, backed by Act 26 revenues, represented only about two percent of total assets in 1998. PAAC has recently issued another $66.8 million in 10-year debt for bus fleet replacement. PAAC plans to soon issue $203.5 million in 30-year debt backed by Act 26 revenues, $111.78 million of which will be used in financing the New Starts project. The cumulative debt from these bond issues, which is equivalent to about twenty percent of total assets, is not excessive. PAAC’s most recent bond issue received an Aaa rating from Moody’s. Allegheny County’s financial condition, for capital financing purposes, is viewed as stable. Pennsylvania’s financial condition is very strong, with low debt levels and budget surpluses. Its general obligation bonds have been AA rated by both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. Overall, PAAC is viewed as having the financial capability and managerial wherewithal to see successful conclusion of its planned capital program including: Phase I of the MLK East Busway Extension; Phase I Airport Busway/Wabash HOV Facility, scheduled to be completed in 2001; completion of the full modernization of Stage I and II components not included as part of the new starts project; and the Stage II LRT New Starts project.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: The capital cost estimate for the project has decreased by $128.77 million, or 25 percent, from last year despite presumed 4 percent escalation. This reduction is due to the scaling back of imminently planned rebuilding of Stage II track. Rebuilding of the 1.3 mile Drake Line is being eliminated from the New Starts project, and only .85 miles of the 5.3-mile Library Line track will now actually be rebuilt. However, the power system on the Library Line is being upgraded to remove restrictions on the operating number of LRVs, and the rest of the track will be refurbished somewhat. Overall, the capital cost analysis for the project is reasonable and the funding plan is sound.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-New Starts funding for the project is committed. PAAC is rebuilding and rehabilitating an existing rail system and, consequently, has banked $96.3 million of its Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization formula funds over the last seven years for Stage II LRT and is committing another $16.9 million in future Fixed Guideway funds for Stage II LRT. This accounts for nearly all of PAAC’s Fixed Guideway formula money over the next five years (including 1999), the period during which PAAC plans to complete the Stage II LRT. PAAC proposes to use only $3.9 million in Federal flex funds, all of which have been committed (last year’s proposal was to use $125.7 million from this source). PAAC plans to issue $203.5 million in tiered 30-year bonds that are backed by dedicated revenues received

annually from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; $111.78 million of these funds will be used for the project. Funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been approved in the State’s 12-year transit plan. Allegheny County provides a one-to-five ratio match for its share of Fixed Guideway and other Federal funds requiring a twenty percent local match. The New Starts funding proposal is equal to the TEA-21 project authorization.

New and Proposed Sources: No new funding sources are proposed for the project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the financial soundness of the PAAC and the reliability of State support of transit operating subsidies.

Agency Operating Financial Condition: PAAC has been running a small budget surplus for the past two years. The 20-year operating cash flow analysis shows substantial operating surpluses building through 2010, then declining in the outyears. Farebox revenues are projected to cover 21 percent of total operating expenses, which is consistent with historical values. Although local area population has actually declined slightly over the previous six years, total internally generated revenues at PAAC have remained stable. Projections of increased annual revenues generated by increased daily ridership are reasonable. In addition to dedicated local revenue sources, PAAC’s operating expenses are covered by a combination of other State and Federal funding sources. Overall, the Stage II LRT Priority Program would provide a small net improvement in system wide operations resulting in cost efficiencies.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Projected 2 – 3 percent per year increases in system wide operating costs and operating assistance are considered reasonable. Efficiencies derived from the project’s system modernization and improvements will reduce overall system operating and maintenance costs. The rebuilt Overbrook Line will replace inefficiently configured bus routes, operations on the Library Line will be improved, 11 new or improved miles of the Stage II service will be integrated with the 13-mile Stage I line, and the entire integrated LRT system will be modernized. Escalation factors for operating costs are not identified. Operating plans include little provision for covering unanticipated circumstances that would negatively impact net operating income.

Existing and Committed Funding: Twelve percent of total operating expenses are covered by dedicated State formula funds backed by a variety of taxes. Further, a fixed percentage of total State operating assistance, covering 26 percent of PAAC operating expenses, must be directly appropriated from the State budget annually. Allegheny County must match every three State dollars with one of its own for operating assistance.

New and Proposed Sources: No new funding sources are proposed for the project.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $ YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  Section 5309 New Starts


($11.82 million appropriated through FY 2000)

Section 5309 Fixed Guideway


STP - Flexible Funds





($ 96.3 million appropriated through FY 2000)
  Commonwealth of

Pennsylvania – State Bonds


  PAAC – Act 26 Bonds

Allegheny County – Capital

Improvement Bonds






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 2 LRT Priority Program (map)