The Bus Rapid Transit system between Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland won’t begin construction until early next year, but Pittsburgh Regional Transit held a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday.

That’s mostly because U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, was instrumental in obtaining a $99.5 million federal grant for the project and will be retiring at the end of this year.

The grant, a key component of the $291 million project, has been under evaluation by the Federal Transit Administration for more than 18 months and likely will be released early next year.

But that didn’t stop officials from singing praises to the project Wednesday.

A mock-up of the Bus Rapid Transit system on Grant Street. (Emmalee Reed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald noted that the project to provide more reliable service between Oakland and Downtown had been under development since he was a member of County Council more than 12 years ago. He said it is “really going to transform what’s going on in this region” by allowing buses to stay on schedule rather than bunching together in rush-hour traffic.

Doyle said the improved service will lead to “significant economic and social development” and help to “ensure all of our communities thrive.”

The project will connect two of the busiest job centers in the state, Oakland and Downtown. But U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, stressed the regional importance of the system.

People gather on Grant Street after a groundbreaking for the Bus Rapid Transit system Wednesday, Nov. 9, in Downtown. (Emmalee Reed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“I want people to know, the suburbs and people in outlying counties, this is for you, too,” he said, noting it will provide reliable public transit for someone who wants to travel from Beaver County to Oakland for work, school or medical services.

“It’s going to benefit our entire region as a whole.”

The project will create exclusive bus lanes inbound on Fifth Avenue and outbound on Forbes Avenue, and buses will have priority at traffic lights. The Forbes Avenue lane also will include a protected bicycle lane. 

Work has been divided into two phases with the Downtown area expected to begin construction next spring and the Uptown and Oakland work to follow about a year later. 

The agency plans to begin using the Downtown lanes as they become available.

David Huffaker, PRT’s chief development officer, said the agency is reviewing the first round of construction bids, which came in higher than expected.

“It’s different than what we expected, so we are evaluating what we’re going to do,” he said.

He expects the board to approve contracts in January.

CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman said staff will present a federally required evaluation of how changes in bus routes for the project will affect minorities to a board committee Thursday and open a public comment period. The agency also will hold the final public meetings about project design, which she called “the planning equivalent of putting a bow on it and asking the public if that’s the gift they thought they were getting.”

A shovel is stuck in dirt following a groundbreaking for the Bus Rapid Transit system on Grant Street on Wednesday, Nov. 9, in Downtown. (Emmalee Reed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

In the Downtown area, the BRT system will enter the Golden Triangle on Fifth Avenue to Liberty Avenue, Liberty to Sixth Avenue and Sixth to Forbes. Stations in the Downtown area will be at Fifth and Ross Street, Fifth and William Penn Place, Fifth and Market Street, the Wood Street T station at Sixth and Wood Street, and Steel Plaza at Sixth and Grant Street.

For more than a year, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and other companies have been replacing utilities in the corridor. 

PRT also is in the process of studying the path other bus routes follow through the Downtown area to determine what changes have to be made because about half of the 97 bus routes will not use the BRT lanes.

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at