Pittsburgh Union-Progress: Time to deliver: Federal grants will lead to $237.2 million of work on Parkway East, East Busway

For U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, a news conference in Swissvale Friday was about more than a $142.3 million grant to improve the Parkway East and Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, among other projects in the eastern suburbs.

“This is about people,” said Lee, a Democrat who grew up a block away from the news conference site along the busway. “It’s about jobs. It’s about quality of life.

“We’re setting the stage for prosperity and growth.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was at the news conference to celebrate the federal grant, which will fund a series of local projects grouped together and submitted by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission as the Eastern Pittsburgh Multi-modal Corridor Project.

The local grant was among 11 chosen for funding from 117 applications. Buttigieg said the awards were based on a series of criteria, including easing congestion, safety, creating jobs, reducing pollution and improving under-served communities. He described those projects that received funding as “the best of the best” and called the Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion economic stimulus package a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“This opportunity is one we’ve been waiting for our entire lives and then some,” Buttigieg said. “Now, we have to deliver.”

Overall, the grants will provide 60% of the cost of the projects, which means the overall spending on the work will be $237.2 million. The remaining money will be provided by the state Department of Transportation and other federal sources.

Jason Zang, PennDOT’s district executive, said the projects that the agency will oversee are in various stages of design. He said he expects the first one to move forward will be the retaining wall in the area of the Parkway East in Downtown Pittsburgh knows as “the bathtub.”

Like the Mon Wharf, that 600-yard area floods before the river reaches flood stage at Point State Park, closing the westbound lanes of highway for about 100,000 motorists who use it daily.

That complicated work, most of which will have to be done while maintaining traffic, should begin in 2026, Zang said.

U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Aspinwall, who shares parts of the project area with Lee, called the federal support “a pretty great piece of news.”

“Folks are going to save time and money because transportation is better,” he said. “That’s what impacts our lives every day.”

Rich Fitzgerald, the former Allegheny County executive who became president and CEO of the 10-county regional planning commission earlier this month, said he expects the agency to develop more grant applications for large projects. Former CEO Vincent Valdes, who retired at the end of the year, started that effort to combine projects from several agencies into one grant request during his 3½ years there.

“You’re going to see more of these,” he said. “That infrastructure bill money is going to be here for a while.”

Here is a financial breakdown of the work that was first announced last month:

  • Creating a traffic control system on the Parkway East between Monroeville and the Squirrel Hill Tunnel to ease congestion and reduce accidents ($94.7 million).
  • Building a bus-only lane on the shoulder of the parkway from Monroeville to Edgewood, where it will join the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway ($44.7 million).
  • Controlling slopes to eliminate landslides, paving and upgrading 10 bridges along the busway ($54.2 million).
  • Installing a larger retaining wall to control flooding in “the bathtub” ($33.3 million).
  • Traffic control measures and other improvements on secondary highways that feed the Parkway East ($9 million).
  • Filling sidewalk gaps along about 5,000 feet of Business Route 22 in Wilkins and Monroeville ($1.2 million).

View the full article at unionprogress.com.