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Port Authority receives grant to plan possible development around proposed East Busway extension

Although it hasn’t decided exactly how it will extend the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway yet, Port Authority has received a $565,500 federal grant to begin planning for transit-oriented development in Braddock, North Braddock and East Pittsburgh after the extension occurs.

The busway currently extends from Downtown Pittsburgh through the Strip District, East Liberty, Homewood and Wilkinsburg to the Swissvale-Rankin border, and Port Authority’s long-range plan calls for extending it through Braddock and North Braddock to East Pittsburgh. The grant announced last week from a Federal Transit Administration pilot program will pay the bulk of developing an $800,000 plan for development related to transit in three of Allegheny County’s poorest communities when the extension is completed.

The authority’s long-range plan, called NEXTransit, lists extending the busway as one of the agency’s top priorities. It hasn’t decided whether to continue the busway along Norfolk Southern railroad tracks or shift to an on-street Bus Rapid Transit system where buses would have exclusive lanes or special priority at traffic signals.

The planning grant is designed to have the communities ready for housing and/or commercial development on land near the transit route. It is an outgrowth of a joint planning process the boroughs completed last summer that called improved transit and development around it among the top opportunities in that area.

“Basically, [the development study] is assuming we will be completing one of the scenarios for extending the busway,” authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said. “This is a very important part of Allegheny County. For this application to be approved is really a wonderful opportunity for Port Authority and these communities.”

Seth Abrams, borough manager for East Pittsburgh, said the joint planning process the boroughs recently completed identifies communities in three different situations. East Pittsburgh is a mostly residential community with older housing but few lots available for new construction. North Braddock is mostly residential, too, but it has a major problem with abandoned buildings. Braddock is a former industrial and commercial center trying to rebuild on vacant lots and brownfields.

But the communities have one common need: improved access. There is bus service now via the 61A and B routes, but the communities need better transit, whether it’s for residents going out for work and basic services or visitors coming in for work or recreation, Mr. Abrams said.

“That access, no matter whether people are going out or coming in, is critical,” he said, noting that about 12% of the borough’s 2,000 residents relied on limited public transportation before the pandemic. “As a destination, having the ability for people to get here is really important.”

Across the country, the goal of transit-oriented development is to have housing and other services near transit so residents have access to it. A good example in the Pittsburgh area is the East Liberty Transit Center, a facility that includes housing, mixed-use commercial development, a parking garage and a pedestrian bridge to Shadyside.

Mr. Brandolph said the development study would take about 18 months, but no start date has been set yet. The agency also hasn’t started the planning process for busway extension yet.

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