By Andy Medici

In the midst of stalled contract negotiations, the Port Authority is moving ahead on their long-term plans to develop new traffic infrastructure, including the light rail system known as the North Shore Connector.

As workers continue to tunnel under the Allegheny River, construction has also begun on the 1.2 miles of light rail and two stations to be located on the Northside, with one near PNC Park and the other near the Carnegie Science Center and Heinz Field.

David Whipkey, said that the project would proceed as scheduled regardless of any possible work disruptions. Since the money is coming from the separate capital budget, there would be no work stoppage in case the Port Authority and the unions could not negotiate a new contract.

Currently, workers are moving utility lines to deal with the new station, and have closed down one lane of Reedsdale Street, next to Heinz Field, to make room for the work. Along with the utility work, crews from Brayman Construction are demolishing the Miller Print building, the former site of the UPMC Sportsworks.

The station will sit about 30 feet off the ground, and the building will consist of a combination of metal and glass plates, providing a view of downtown Pittsburgh and Mt. Washington.

Steve Knebel, the Senior Project Engineer, said that the unique design and look of the station will provide visitors with a memorable experience.

“It will be a neat experience for those coming to Heinz Field, the Carnegie Science Center, the casino or CCAC to use this station with its glass-topped canopy, which will provide a great view of Pittsburgh’s skyline” he said. “The station was designed to provide access to many North Shore destinations and to be an attractive asset for the North Shore and North Side communities.”

Project Manager Jerry Marinzel said that the end-result for the station is a combination of community input and attractive functionality.

“This station was designed with the community and neighborhood in mind. We met with the Steelers, Carnegie Science Center, and the North Side Leadership Conference,” Marinzel said.

“All of them had input into the final design of the station. We feel that it will be a great addition to the neighborhood.”

The final design of the station will be completed in the spring of 2009, and construction on the station itself will begin later that year. The Port Authority’s North Shore Connector, a 1.2 mile extension of the light-rail system, the T, will link the South Hills, Downtown Pittsburgh, and the burgeoning North Shore. Revenue service is slated to begin in 2011.

           The new light-rail stations are part of the North Shore Connector project which, according to the Port Authority’s Web site, is part of a larger plan to bring light rail and greater public transportation options to the Pittsburgh International Airport and eventually to the North Hills as well.

The project originally began as part of a City of Pittsburgh plan to revitalize downtown, which called for a rapid transit link between the Northside and Downtown. Between 1999 and 2002 the Port Authority held 275 meetings with various groups requesting input.

The North Shore Connector project issued a notice to proceed with construction Oct. 2, 2006, and began the preliminary drilling Nov. 20, 2007.

The Port Authority chose to tunnel under the river because the costs of building or reconstructing a currently existing bridge were comparable to the price of tunneling, according to the Web site.

The Port Authority projects to have an annual ridership of about 4.2 million people, with traffic to the Steelers and Pirates games to account for about 12 percent of yearly traffic. Some of the traffic will also be commuters taking advantage of fringe parking on the Northside and commuting the rest of the way using the light rail system.