The Port Authority board announced today it will hold a public meeting to discuss possible funding streams for a $4 million study of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) — a project that would create separately branded rapid bus service between Downtown and Oakland.
The study is a necessary step to qualify for federal funding, according to board chairman Robert Hurley, because the Federal Transit Administration requires an environmental analysis of the project as well as engineering plans, including "vetting" alternative routes (converting a lane of Forbes Avenue or additional lane on Fifth Avenue to be bus-only, for instance).
A date for the meeting has not yet been set, but will be held in the next couple weeks, Hurley says.
"I believe this board is in favor of [BRT]," Hurley says, "It's really a development project that has support" from the business and medical community.
The county is kicking in $1 million for the study — other funding streams will be discussed at the meeting (including amendments to the authority's $388 million operating budget which includes no fare hikes or service cuts, and was approved unanimously today along with a $183 million capital budget).
The board previously contracted with Parsons Brinkerhoff for $1.5 million to conduct an analysis of alternatives and environmental study of the BRT project, but changes in the authority's leadership and board stalled the process, Hurley said. (The FTA also changed its rules and now allows transit agencies to conduct one large study that includes an engineering analysis instead of several small studies, according to Chris Sandvig, regional policy director at the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group).
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a BRT supporter, has previously said the project could cost around $200 million, though Hurley notes the study "will help us figure out what the real future cost is."
Some transit advocates have question the wisdom of an investment that large in a transit corridor that is already well-served, arguing the agency should be putting its resources into restoring routes that have lost service.
That argument got some support from North Baldwin residents who showed up at the board meeting this morning to ask Port Authority to restore route 50-Spencer, which was cut in 2011.
Hurley said he's received "a number of letters" on restoring service to Baldwin. He said he couldn't promise service restoration, but "The board is going to take a look at where we need to restore service."