Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania/North Shore Connector LRT

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North Shore Connector LRT

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

(November 2000)


The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) proposes to construct a 1.6 mile Light Rail Transit (LRT) system extension connecting the Golden Triangle and the North Shore wholly within downtown Pittsburgh. The project would extend existing LRT service from the Gateway Center LRT Station in the Golden Triangle to the vicinity of the West End Bridge on the North Shore via a tunnel below the Allegheny River. On the North Shore, the project would be a mix of at-grade and elevated alignment. The project would also include a Convention Center Connection, linking the existing Steel Plaza LRT Station and the Convention Center.

The North Shore Connector LRT project would include the construction of four new LRT stations and modification of the Gateway Center and Steel Plaza stations, and the acquisition of 10 new light rail vehicles. Project capital costs are estimated at $389.9 million (escalated dollars); revenue service start-up is planned in 2004. Year 2015 ridership is projected at 59,700 average weekday boardings and 6,500 daily new riders.

North Shore Connector LRT Summary Description

Proposed Project Light rail line extension
1.6 miles, 4 new & 2 modified stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $389.9 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $194.9 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $15.9 million
Ridership Forecast (2015) 13,600 daily boardings
3,800 daily new riders
FY 2002 Financial Rating: Medium
FY 2002 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2002 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

The Recommended rating is based on the project’s generally adequate financial plan and justification criteria, reflecting relatively strong land use. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 2000. 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 alternatives analysis completed in early 1999 concluded that a multi-modal package of transportation improvements be carried forward for further analysis during project environmental review. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement was published in May 2000. The “Gateway LRT Alternative” was selected as the Locally Preferred Alternative for the North Shore Connector LRT project on August 16, 2000 by PAAC. FTA approval to initiate Preliminary Engineering was granted January 2001. The project is included in the 1997 Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) Long Range Plan, as well as the 1999-2002 SPC Transportation Improvement Program for design and construction.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(97) authorizes the “Pittsburgh North Shore – Central Business District Corridor.” Through FY 2001, Congress has appropriated $15.75 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 have been reported and evaluated on the North Shore Connector LRT. N/A indicates that data are not available for a specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in early preliminary engineering.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

PAAC estimates that the project will serve 59,700 average weekday boardings and attract 6,500 daily new riders by 2015, and would result in the following annual travel time savings.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 0.2 million 0.1 million

Based on 1990 Census data, there are an estimated 510 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the 4 stations along the proposed project corridor.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

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

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 85 annual tons decrease of 33 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 2 annual tons decrease of 5 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) decrease of 20 annual tons decrease of 8 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) 0 0
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 15,416 annual tons decrease of 13,161 annual tons

In 2015, the 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 22,956 million annual BTU decrease of 22,956 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Low-Medium

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

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2015) $0.45 $0.46 $0.46

Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

PAAC estimates the following cost effectiveness index for the project.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $14.80 $14.70

Values reflect 2015 ridership forecast and 1999 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High land use rating reflects a compact and walkable CBD, as well as plans and policies to redevelop the North Shore with high trip generators and a mix of uses in a pedestrian-friendly manner.

Existing Conditions: The proposed line serves a compact regional CBD with high levels of employment, high employment densities, and other major trip generators. Total employment is approximately 120,000, with nearly all of this within ½ mile – and most within ¼ mile – of LRT stations. The line connects the main CBD area (the “Golden Triangle”) and residential areas to the south to the North Shore, a redeveloping industrial area across the river from the Golden Triangle. Several trip generators, including the convention center, museums, and two new sports stadiums on the North Shore will be served by the project. Parking that serves the major developments on the North Shore will also serve as remote parking for commuters, who would transfer by LRT to the CBD. As development increases on the North Shore, surface parking would be converted to structured parking.

Plans and Policies: Substantial development is planned for the North Shore area to be served by the LRT project. In addition to the major projects cited above, plans call for 1.3 to 2.3 million square feet of mixed-use development on the former Three Rivers Stadium site. A hotel/ conference, office, and sports related development is also planned for the area west of the new football stadium.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Plan calls for increasing the mix of retail and entertainment options in both the “Golden Triangle” area and the North Shore to better attract people to the area and increase 24-hour activity. The plan calls for implementation of pedestrian-oriented urban design guidelines, development of a review process, and completion of district plans (including a plan for the North Shore). The proposed guidelines are strongly supportive of mixed-use development and a pedestrian-scale streetscape. Redevelopment of the North Shore will be done around a “reestablished historic street grid.” Parking policies emphasize fringe parking for all-day commuters, in conjunction with transit connections, to reduce congestion and parking requirements in the Golden Triangle.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Local Share of Total Project Costs: 50%

The project financial plan proposes to use $194.95 million (50 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds, and $194.95 million (50 percent) of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium capital finance plan rating reflects the financial conditions of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Commonwealth) and PAAC, and the reasonableness of the capital financing plan at this stage of the project.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The Commonwealth and PAAC are in sound financial condition. The Commonwealth will finance the capital development of the project through a new dedicated revenue stream. PAAC has an investment grade rating of AAA, indicating the accepted stability and reliability of its revenue sources, as well as PAAC’s out-year fiscal viability.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: The project cost estimate is unchanged from the DEIS cost estimate, which is reasonable for a project of this scope. PAAC has not fully developed a contingency plan at this time.

Existing and Committed Funding: One-third, $65 million, of non-Section 5309 New Starts funds has been approved by the legislature for this project.

New and Proposed Sources: A new dedicated revenue stream, to begin in FY 2002, has been proposed to the legislature.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium operating finance plan rating reflects PAAC’s projection of balanced operating budgets, consistent with its historical experience.

Agency Operating Financial Condition: Historical data and 20 year cash flow projections indicate that any annual operating cash flow shortfall can be paid from operating cash reserves. Beginning at the end of the initial year of project operations, PAAC’s projected operating cash surplus balances are substantially equal to three months of operating expenses.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Projected O&M costs relative to the existing transit system equate to about 1.5 percent in the initial year of operations, FY 2004. Annual operating costs are estimated at $15.9 million ($YOE).

Existing and Committed Funding: PAAC indicates that project farebox revenues will provide about 32 to 33 percent of the project O&M costs, consistent with the 32 percent systemwide farebox recovery.

New and Proposed Sources: A new dedicated revenue stream, to begin in FY 2002, will provide an additional funding source for project O&M costs.

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Starts $194.95 $15.75 million appropriated through FY 2001
State and Local: State Appropriations $194.95


Total: $389.90

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

Map of 1.6 mile Light Rail Transit (LRT) system extension connecting the Golden Triangle and the North Shore wholly within downtown Pittsburgh.