It’s taken nearly 40 years of lobbying, but construction should start in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood next year on a raised light rail platform to provide better access for people with disabilities.
Pittsburgh Regional Transit is completing final design for the new Belasco Station and expects to go out for bids early next year. The estimated $7 million project will erect new raised-platform stations on both sides of Broadway Avenue, said Greg O’Hare, the agency’s chief engineer.
O’Hare and Mike Cetra, chief legal officer, outlined the project last week for the agency’s performance oversight committee. The committee recommended the full board approve an agreement for a permanent easement for Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority at the site when it meets Thursday so PWSA can access its underground facilities in the future.
“It’s going to be an immediate improvement for that neighborhood by increasing access,” O’Hare said in an interview. “Hopefully it will spur other activity in that neighborhood, too.”
Beechview is among several South Hills communities where the light rail system runs at street level and shares the roadway with cars and other traffic, a throwback to the old streetcar system. Currently, light rail riders must climb several steps to get into the trains.
In late 2020, PRT officials and the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure held hearings for residents to choose between two options for the new stations with raised platforms: long, straight ramps with a gradual slope or switchback ramps with one turn. The authority is moving ahead with the switchback ramps, which will have wider turning areas that ADA laws require to make access as easy as possible.
“There’s not a lot of room, and it certainly is a unique challenge,” O’Hare said.
The current stops are shared by bus and light rail passengers, but the new stations will be for light rail only. The sites also will have new ticket vending machines for riders.
O’Hare said the project is expected to take about seven months once construction begins, but crews could have to take a break for winter weather.
Some Beechview residents have been lobbying for the new stations since the mid-1980s, before the ADA rules were adopted in the early 1990s. Belasco will be the first of a series of stations to be converted with four others in early planning stages, O’Hare said.