Upcoming road, bridge projects to have big impact on campus


Karina Ricks, director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, told the University Senate’s Plant Utilization and Planning committee that the city is actively trying to figure out how to get people where they need to go in sustainable, economical and timely ways.

Ricks, who has been in the job since 2016 and came from Washington, D.C., spoke to the committee on Dec. 17 about the city’s transportation goals and some specific issues affecting Pitt’s Oakland campus in the near future.

She cited a 2015 Harvard study that found “the single largest factor in families escaping poverty is commute time and access.”

The department’s goals include:

  • No one dies or is seriously injured traveling on city streets.
  • Every household in Pittsburgh can access fresh fruits and vegetables within 20 minutes travel of home, without using a private vehicle.
  • All trips less than 1 mile are easily, safely and enjoyably achieved by non-vehicle travel.
  • Streets and intersections can be intuitively navigated by an adolescent.
  • The combined cost of transportation, housing and energy does not exceed 45 percent of household income for any income group.

Pittsburgh will invest about $80 million on transportation infrastructure in 2019, Ricks said. And projects by other groups, including PennDOT, will bring that number up to $200 million in Pittsburgh.

“Buckle up for congestion, because it’s all going to be under construction at roughly the same time,” she said. “So we are really putting a lot more emphasis into coordinating projects, coordinating the alternative routes.”

In addition to outlining her department’s overall goals, Ricks talked about some projects of particularly interest to the Pitt community in Oakland.

Bus Rapid Transit

Core BRT route

The proposed BRT is “really just a notion of providing enhanced facilities and operating accommodations for the buses here in the Fifth and Forbes corridor,” Ricks said.

The system addresses problems of bus bunching, overcrowding, small stations and reliability. The BRT, which is a Port Authority project, would include dedicated bus lanes on Fifth and Forbes and limited bus routes through the corridor.

Smart traffic signals would give priority to buses depending on how many passengers are on board. The city currently has 50 adaptive traffic signal intersections; the work along the city’s “spine,” which includes Fifth and Forbes, would add 157 more.

Larger stations, like the one that opened last month at Atwood Street and Fifth, would have machines to pay before boarding the bus and the buses would have all-door boarding, to speed up passenger transfer. The project would require some re-paving of Fifth and Forbes in Oakland and new pavement markings, but not a total reconstruction like some other areas of the city.

The total project is expected to cost around $120 million. The city hopes to get nearly half of that from federal funds. The design phase is 60 percent complete, Ricks said, and when completed, it will go to the Federal Transit Administration as part of the New Start Small Starts capital improvement program, where it will compete against other municipalities for grant money.

Ricks said she and Port Authority CEO Katherine Kelleman are working very closely on this project and “both of us are really committed to seeing these bus improvements, transit improvements happen” regardless of the timing and amount of federal funding.

“We’re not going to stop while we kind of are waylaid for that federal decision,” Ricks said. “So we’re using our own local investments as we’re looking at our resurfacing program, as we’re looking at our signal program and (Kelleman is) looking at her fleet transition program to see if we can’t move forward with our own local money, and the state is also looking at ways that they can help step up and provide assistance to this.”

Bigelow Boulevard

Bigelow Boulevard rendering

Pitt’s master plan outline released last year included changes to make Bigelow Boulevard more attractive and safer for pedestrians, but Pitt doesn’t control the street.

“Bigelow is a public city street,” Ricks said. “It is a key link in the Oakland mobility network, in addition to being an important street for the campus community. … It is a street that is a link in our pedestrian network, our bicycle network. Transit and shuttles converge on that location. It really is a multi-modal hub.”

About 8,000 vehicles also travel on Bigelow between Fifth and Forbes each day, but Ricks said the first priority in any new design is pedestrian safety, particularly during class change. In order for pedestrians to not bottle up every other type of transportation on the street, “we need to provide logical, intuitive, dominant crossings for them.”

The concept design tries to organize the street into zones for pedestrians, bikes, shuttles and other transit vehicles and cars. A median in the middle of the street and plantings along the side of the road will help channel pedestrians into a new mid-block crosswalk, which will be slightly raised from the rest of the road, acting as a speed hump.

John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations, said the University has committed to having a crossing guard at the crosswalk, particularly during the weekday class change times.

Ricks said the design work has been done for Bigelow, but “we’re still looking for funding to implement it. It is a full reconstruction of the street, which makes it quite expensive.”

PWSA also may want to work on some water lines under the road and the University wants to put in chilled water lines. Scott Bernotas, associate vice chancellor for facilities management, said the project will likely take at least 10 months, but no start date has been determined yet.

Charles Anderson Bridge

Looming in the future is the rehabilitation or reconstruction of the Charles Anderson Bridge on the Boulevard of the Allies as it crosses Junction Hollow into Schenley Park.

The cantilever truss bridge, which was completed in 1940, has been deemed structurally deficient, Ricks said. The design process will proceed carefully, looking at whether rehab of the historic bridge is possible, but she said, “It’s not looking so great right now.”

Some of the issues the design will consider are the width of the bridge, which is below current standards, along with better accommodations for bikes and pedestrians.

Mon-Oakland connector

The goal of this project is to connect the communities along the Monongahela River to Oakland, Ricks said.

“Right now, there are a couple of bus routes that will do that. But they are fairly circuitous,” she said. “We’ve heard from residents that work here in Oakland and live out in the Hazelwood and Glen Hazel community that when they leave for the day, it will easily take them 90 minutes to get home after they board the bus.”

The city also doesn’t want the new Hazelwood Green development to turn into a large office park with lots of parking, because that area can’t handle an influx of traffic.

The connector, as currently envisioned, would go along Panther and Junction Hollows and reuse Sylvan Avenue, which still exists as a public right of way but is closed because of landslides. Ricks said that would have to be addressed first. It could connect to Schenley Plaza via Joncaire Street and then give access to the nearby BRT system.

Ricks said the Mon-Oakland Connector is in the design phase and there will be public meetings in February.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.