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Pittsburgh Celebrates 25th Anniversary of East Busway


May 5, 2008


Special to Passenger Transport

The Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh is a pioneer in the development of Bus Rapid Transit on exclusive rights-of-way, beginning with the opening of the 4.3-mile South Busway in 1977. The agency's second busway, the 6.8-mile Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, opened in 1983, with a 2.3-mile extension added in 2003; this year it is celebrating its 25th anniversary of providing significantly improved travel times for transit riders from the city's eastern neighborhoods.

The Port Authority followed the opening of the East Busway with the five-mile West Busway, which opened in 2000. Along with the Pennsylvania DOT's high-occupancy vehicle lane on the Parkway North, bus riders from the north, south, east, and west areas of Allegheny County can enjoy the benefits of BRT, including better air quality and less traffic congestion on surrounding roads.

The original section of the East Busway, with a construction cost of $115 million, links the communities of Wilkinsburg, East Liberty, Homewood, Shadyside, and Polish Hill with downtown Pittsburgh. The $68 million extension added service to residents of Pittsburgh's eastern suburbs of Swissvale, Edgewood, and Rankin.

Approximately 26,000 riders per weekday, or seven million a year, use the East Busway as a quick, easy, and efficient way to go to work, college, shopping, cultural activities, and job training, among other destinations.

Before the busway opened, the bus trip between Wilkinsburg and downtown Pittsburgh could take up to 45 minutes. The BRT enhancements of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway cut travel time to just 15 minutes.

Not only does the East Busway allow for a quicker and easier commute into downtown Pittsburgh from the eastern suburbs, it also been a stimulus for new development along its corridor. Private development worth an estimated $500 million--in areas such as downtown, East Liberty, Wilkinsburg, Homewood, and Shadyside--includes residential, commercial, and office complexes, as well as medical facilities, directly adjacent to the East Busway.

Riders and public officials have been pleased with the East Busway's efficiency, affordability, and convenience since its opening. The Feb. 24, 1983, issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted James Romanelli, then chairman of the Port Authority Board of Directors and a Pennsylvania state senator, as saying the busway "will increase ridership and will stimulate a whole corridor of development throughout the eastern suburbs. It will also be a feeder into our subway line downtown."

"This will make it a pleasure to go to work in the morning," Wilkinsburg resident Eleanor Jensen told the Post-Gazette a quarter of a century ago.

Current Port Authority Board Chairman Jack Brooks said he is just as pleased with the East Busway's contribution to providing effective, affordable public transportation service as his predecessor was 25 years ago. He called it "one of the crown jewels of the entire Port Authority system" and added: "From offering the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit to thousands of county residents to encouraging development in areas such as East Liberty and other communities, the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway is truly a transportation treasure that will serve the region for years to come."

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