Peculiar Pittsburgh

‘The bridge to nowhere,’ hybrid buses, and infamous traffic: Answering your Pittsburgh transit questions

What do you want to know about Pittsburgh?

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

If you notice large groups of people walking, biking and climbing steps around Pittsburgh this weekend, they could be some of more than 1,000 Rail-Volution conference attendees out on “mobile workshops.”

Rail-Volution, in town Sunday to Wednesday, is centered on transit and development and how those things can make cities like Pittsburgh more livable. While the conference is largely for those working in transit — both in public and private sectors— as well as students, there are a few sessions open to the public:

Readers regularly send us their own questions about transit and mobility through Peculiar Pittsburgh, and we try to find answers. One example: Why does Pittsburgh’s light rail only go to the South Hills?

Here, we’ve rounded up four questions — and their answers.

How many hybrid diesel-electric buses does Port Authority have, and what are their future plans?

Of the 702 buses in the Port Authority’s fleet, 32 are hybrid, spokesperson Adam Brandolph told The Incline. While there are no plans for more, the authority bought two all-electric buses and is expecting to get those in next year.

Proposed Bus Rapid Transit from Downtown to Oakland, meanwhile, would have all electric buses, meaning there would be 25 more just for Fifth and Forbes avenues. In September, officials submitted an application for federal funds and expect an answer later this year or in early 2019, TribLive reported. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald wants the project to move forward with or without these funds, but federal support would impact when construction could start in 2019, Amie Downs, Allegheny County spokesperson told The Incline.

Is there any plan to ease traffic flow on 376 West from Greentree to the Fort Pitt tunnel?

This area is known for high congestion both daily and beyond the typical peak periods, so the Pa. Department of Transportation along with the Federal Highway Administration are proposing the continuation of a current project, PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said.

Proposed additions would include a new exit ramp to State Road 19 and Route 51 ramps before where I-376 and Banksville Road merge. This would reduce congestion for the drivers getting on and off before the Fort Pitt Tunnel, Cowan said.  The project would also add lanes near several ramps to make traffic flow easier.

Why was the Fort Duquesne bridge built and not completed until much later?

The Fort Duquesne bridge is also known as “the bridge to nowhere,” as its main span was finished in 1963 — but the bridge wasn’t totally done until the ’80s. Per the Post-Gazette’s blog, The Digs:

… “red tape and governmental disagreement” kept it from being completed for several more years, earning it the nickname “The Bridge to Nowhere.”

The bridge just stopped about 90 feet from the shoreline and barricades were set up on both ends to stop people from falling off. But in December 1964, Frederick Williams, a University of Pittsburgh student, crashed through the barricades and flew off the bridge, his car landing upside down by the river. He survived, largely unhurt. Rick Seback reports the story in “Flying Off The Bridge To Nowhere and Other Tales of Pittsburgh’s Bridge.”

Another part of the problem was finding a place for the northern ramps, per the pghbridges Project’s website. That’s why drivers could use one side in 1969, but the other part wasn’t finished until 1986.

For what beacon is Beacon Street in Squirrel Hill named? To who did the beacon beckon, and why?

This, we have to admit, is still a mystery.

Street naming records typically don’t include the reason for the name, City Archivist Nick Hartley said. The exception is when a name is chosen based on a community petition — but that’s not the case with Beacon Street.

City records do show that the street was dedicated in January 1891.

Ask us your questions about Pittsburgh and the region: