Desperately Seeking Stimulus
I know everyone is planning for how to use the big infrastructure stimulus tsunami that is in the works. It is worth keeping in mind that the little caveat about being 'shovel ready' is not just a minor detail. Not many things we might want to get built are really that ready to get started anytime soon. Can anyone say "environmental impact statement"? The first big push of things that are really ready to be funded soonest will be a small small subset of any larger wish list. I really bet that the first projects that get $$ pushed to them will surprise many folks.
So just one example, take the Trib's recent mention of how the regions 3rd Maglev project is now focused on selling itself as being truly 'shovel ready'. The 3rd maglev project you ask? No not the big Maglev in the sky that was to connect Greensburg, Pittsburgh and the Airport, and no not even the slow Maglev project which is the local project to connect the Hill District with Downtown... but the 3rd which is a people mover type system for the campus of California University of PA. Think it's a bit far fetched? Folks at CUP don't think so. Could shovel ready rule?
Which leads to the Port Authority and the 2nd most controversial transportation project in town*. Are not the most shovel ready projects the ones where the shovels are already digging? That just came to mind reading the coverage on the current state of the North Shore connector where the tunnel-digger is about to finish its journey back under the Allegheny. One point always covered is whether the project is on or over budget. I was just thinking how the whole issue of funding the remainder of the NSC is almost moot. Given the mad rush to find shovel ready infrastructure projects it is nearly impossible that the NSC connector will not be finished at this point. If there is a big shortfall then you have to think that any marginal funding needed to complete a project that is 80-90% finished will be first on the list when the new Federal expenditures start to flow. You might as well claim you are broke to get at the front of the line.... and it looks to me like the Port Authority powers that be were thinking the same thing of late.
Which leads to a further thought. The North Shore Connector has been scaled back several times because of funding cuts and escalating costs. Would it not make sense for the Port Authority to try and leverage new infrastructure investment and put back some of the features that have been gutted from the project.. not the least of which was access to the actual North Side neighborhoods it's supposed to service. The new spur was supposed to extend to the vicinity of the West End Bridge and include 4 new stations built along with the tunnel. Right now I think the plan is just for three new stations and ending short.
Those apoplectic over anything related to the NSC have stopped reading by now, but think about it. A lot of the public antipathy for the project is because it has been scaled back to the point it is hard to justify its existence. Well.... now would be the time to put back the original vision to include the new stations that were planned, or even start to extend the spur toward the airport which was really the original goal or maybe even that spur that would head north toward commuter-hub Cranberry. Even if you are opposed to the whole NSC concept, the fact is that the costliest parts of the project are almost done. The tunnel was the expensive part. At this point does it not make sense to get as much use of the new tunnel as possible? That would mean extending the new line as far as possible and not keeping the minimalist station plan that was forced upon the project by funding constraints. In economic terms, the big fixed cost is already sunk (literally) and the marginal cost of getting the best bang for the buck is a lot lower.
So I am saying: McKees Rocks or bust for the T. For the unbelievers, just keep repeating to yourself: 'shovel ready'.
* No, #1 isn't skybus anymore. Even Pittsburghers' memories start to dull a bit after nearly 40 years. MFE will top the list for some time, whether it ever gets built to completion or not.