North Shore Connector will begin test runs next month

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Above: The North Shore Connector will run through a tunnel that is beneath the Allegheny River. (Photo courtesy Port Authority).

After four years of work, the Port Authority’s North Shore Connector project is ready for test runs. It is on track to begin test runs next month.

The project is two 1.2-mile twin tunnels that will run under the Allegheny River and extend the T, Port Authority’s light rail transit system, from downtown’s Gateway Subway Station to the North Shore. There will be two stations on the North Shore, a subway station underneath Tony Dorsett Drive and an aerial station along Allegheny Avenue.

The idea for the North Shore Connector project came about in the late ’90s. The Pittsburgh Port Authority undertook responsibility for the project in 1999 and construction began in 2007.

The Port Authority will be running a series of tests to ensure that all the systems on the connector are running properly beginning next month.

“In order to make sure everything is running smoothly, we are going to test the different systems, such as the communication and electrical systems, individually to see if there’s anything we need to take a second look at,” said Keith Wargo, project director for the North Shore Connector. “If they are functioning properly, then we move on to the next phase which includes interfacing the systems to see if they work well together.”

They are finishing up the independent tests and then will be moving on to marrying the different systems.

“Because the North Shore Connector project is an isolated and independent one, there haven’t been [many] local inconveniences,” Wargo said.

Construction and testing is conducted outside of service and business hours in order to minimize distractions and disturbances.

The North Shore Connector will allow for quicker access to businesses and institutions, therefore decreasing congestion, said Wargo.

“This project complements different developments in the Northside area. It will benefit CCAC students by giving them a quicker way to campus, avoiding all the morning and evening congestion,” says Wargo.

Wargo adds that it will increase access to entertainment, employment and business opportunities for those who already travel as well as those who will reside in the Northside area in the coming years.

Supporters of this project say that it shows a commitment to the Northside because it will serve different destinations including new Heinz Field, PNC Park, Del Monte and Equitable Resources headquarters, Marriott Springhill Suites and Carnegie Science Center. It will also reduce traffic, create another mode of transportation, enhance access to the T for Northside residents and ultimately allow for further extensions throughout the rest of Allegheny County.

Heather Pharo, Social Media and Communications Specialist for the Port Authority, said that they have no deals with any sponsors right now.

“We are definitely interested in naming rights, but haven’t yet closed any deals. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership will be responsible for securing any naming rights.”

The original cost for the T extension project rounded up to $350 million. It rose to $538 million, but eventually decreased to a final budget of $523 million.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Northside Connector should be up and running on March 25, 2012.

Manushka Gracia-Desgage is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh studying English Writing and Legal Studies.

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