PA: Butler-to-Pittsburgh Commuter Route Likely

June 22--With more than 21,000 Butler County residents traveling into Allegheny County each weekday, the Butler Transit Authority is looking to capture some of that ridership by developing a route between Butler and Pittsburgh's North Shore in the next 18 months.

"There's a pent-up demand for this type of service," said John Paul, the authority's executive director, citing studies by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a regional planning agency. "We are only one of the adjoining counties to Allegheny County that does not have a commuter service provided by the transit authority in that community."

The opening of an expanded park-and-ride lot along Route 528 in Jackson last month, a $1.9 million project paid for by PennDOT and the Butler Transit Authority that set 330 parking spaces, will be part of that transformation. The agency plans to add natural-gas fueled buses and four park-and-ride lots to form the transportation corridor.

The New Castle Area Transit Authority runs buses through the Jackson park-and-ride.

Joe Spina of Upper St. Clair was parked there Wednesday morning, waiting to meet a co-worker to drive to Dubois.

"It looks good here, there's a lot of lighting, there's a nice shelter, and there's ample parking," Spina, 44, said.

According to census numbers, 21,403 people travel each weekday from Butler into Allegheny County to work, though the number who work in Pittsburgh wasn't available.

Of 84,069 Butler County residents who travel to work each day, the Census Bureau said, only 672 use public transportation, which excludes taxis. Nearly 88 percent drive alone, and 7.7 percent carpool.

The agency is counting on a mix of federal, state and county funding to pay for the projects. The authority, with an annual ridership of more than 300,000, has an annual budget of just under $2 million, Paul said.

The authority expects to spend $11.9 million to develop the transit route, which would include $3 million for the buses.

Federal funding will total $7 million, Paul said. The authority is seeking nearly $1.7 million in state money for the buses, a park-and-ride and a natural gas fueling station.

The authority expects to spend the $3 million to buy four natural-gas powered buses, 45-foot coaches, for the Pittsburgh runs. At its Pullman Center location along Hollywood Drive in Butler the authority wants to develop a natural-gas fueling station. Also, another $2.9 million, of which $2.3 million is federal money, would pay for a park-and-ride facility there, creating a rapid transit route with limited stops between Butler and Pittsburgh.

Paul said that smaller park-and-rides would be built in Forward, Evans City and Harmony for the Pittsburgh routes, though funding for the estimated $3 million project likely would not be secured for several years.

The new transportation system could help Butler County workers find jobs, said Ken Raybuck, executive director of the Butler County Community Development Corp.

"(Paul's) plans are very important to help us with this new challenge on the workforce," Raybuck said.

Raybuck and Paul also said that the transit system could help alleviate traffic on area roads, including interstates 79 and 279, and Route 68.

"Route 68 has become a very busy road," said Raybuck. "I think Butler's growing, and we have to find ways to help those folks."

"It's a win-win for everybody in the North Hills," Paul said. "It would help commuters in the North Hills, with fewer vehicles going into Downtown. ... There are lots of positive things that would come from this."

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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