Monday, March 28, 2005

North Side Connector may have chance -

This is a big deal issue for me. I hate the idea and so do the people of the county. We need to stop this project. It needs to stop dead until other more pressing things happen.
North Side Connector may have chance - Three months behind schedule -- and counting -- the Port Authority of Allegheny County's under-river subway to the North Side finally has a chance to get under way.

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North Side Connector may have chance

Monday, March 28, 2005

Three months behind schedule -- and counting -- the Port Authority of Allegheny County's under-river subway to the North Side finally has a chance to get under way.

The Federal Transit Administration is considering whether Gov. Ed Rendell's recent financial pledge to help the cash-strapped Port Authority balance its books is suitable to release $290 million to help pay for construction of the $363 million North Shore Connector.

"That's being looked at right now," said Paul Griffo, an administration spokesman based in Washington, D.C. "The administration is weighing how that will affect the overall picture of transit, including the North Shore project."

The federal agency would not approve its allocation until the struggling transit agency's financial situation improved. Without the money, Port Authority has not been able to begin building the planned 1.2-mile extension of its light-rail system, connecting the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, with the area near the sports stadiums on the North Side.

Construction was supposed to begin in January. If the project was given a green light today, work could not begin until late July, according to Henry Nutbrown, the authority's construction manager. The anticipated completion is December 2009.

"As soon as we get the full-funding grant agreement from the FTA, we would be able to advance the first contract," Nutbrown said.

The federal agency wants to ensure the Port Authority is financially sound and able to absorb the cost of operating the extended light-rail system within its budget when it opens.

The authority faced a $30 million deficit entering its 2005 fiscal year. Its Philadelphia counterpart, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, faced a $62 million deficit this year.

Rendell diverted nearly $19 million to the agencies in January but approved a larger diversion of highway money to help the agencies earlier this month. Port Authority will receive $25.3 million from that move, which allows it to survive its fiscal year 2005, which ends June 30.

In addition, Rendell said he would use an additional $109 million to help Port Authority survive through June 30, 2007.

"The FTA wanted some stronger indication from Pennsylvania," Nutbrown said. "I think that's a strong endorsement of transit, and I would hope the Federal Transit Administration would see it that way."

The use of the additional money, however, also hinges on approval by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which prioritizes how transportation money is spent in the 10-county region.

Rendell and the Legislature continue to haggle over how to resolve the long-term financial crunch for the state's mass transit agencies.

Jim Ritchie can be reached at or (412) 320-7933.