Junction Coalition

The Secret of the Shuttle Route

It seems like a question with a simple, straightforward answer: Where does the proposed MOC shuttle go after it leaves Schenley Park and enters The Run?

Junction Coalition sought the answer by emailing director Karina Ricks and project manager Michael Panzitta of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI). We got more (in terms of material for this post) and less (in terms of the answer itself) than we imagined in our wildest dreams.
***

February 22, 2021

Good Afternoon Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

We are writing to request a detailed, clearly marked map of the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector route between the Schenley Park soccer field (by the railroad overpass) and Saline St. at Greenfield Ave. This information is missing from the presentation at your October 2020 public meetings, which you described as the “final” opportunity for public input.

In slide 11, the green line representing the proposed route ends abruptly as it enters The Run from Schenley Park. Slide 37, presented by a representative of Almono Partners, shows a vague illustration that includes an almost uniformly straight line through The Run as if there are no streets, buildings, or recreation areas in the path of the proposed route.

Confusion on the topic of MOC’s exact route occurred at a recent community meeting. One attendee insisted the route had been changed and now will not enter the neighborhood, but instead follow the “Swinburne Connection” route shown in slide 22 of your presentation.

Please provide clarification on this issue and eliminate the confusion by sending DOMI’s proposed route per the specifications above. As public servants, you have an obligation to be transparent concerning DOMI projects and their effects (potential or otherwise) on Pittsburgh residents. Residents have a right to full and complete knowledge of all plans for their communities.

Sincerely,

Junction Coalition
***

March 10, 2021

Hello Again Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

More than two weeks have passed since we sent our previous email requesting a detailed, clearly marked map of the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector route between the Schenley Park soccer field (by the railroad overpass) and Saline St. at Greenfield Ave. We are following up with you for clarification on the proposed MOC route through The Run. We expect a reply within the next 24 hours along with the detailed, clearly marked map we requested. This information is missing from the presentation in your October 2020 public meetings, which you described as the “final” opportunity for public input.

As mentioned in the earlier email, those who are working on behalf of the public and funded with taxes have an obligation to be transparent concerning proposed DOMI projects and their effects (potential or otherwise) on Pittsburgh residents. Residents have a right to full and complete knowledge of all proposed plans for their communities.

Our request for this information is not unreasonable. The information requested should be straightforward by this point in the process. We’d prefer to not be forced to file RTK requests, but will if necessary in order to be clear on the exact path and scope of the proposed route. The Run needs to know how it would affect our community.

Sincerely,
Junction Coalition
***

March 15, 2021

Hello Junction Coalition

Attached please find the requested roll plot with call-outs to specify the details of the two trails.

·       The mobility trail terminates at the parking lot near the soccer field. At this point, trail users join the shared use of the public streets.

·       The Three Rivers Heritage Trail (aka Junction Hollow Trail) follows largely the same path it does today – continuing along the east side of Boundary street under the rail underpass, crosses Boundary Street and then continues adjacent to the rail embankment to the Saline Street cycle track, up an improved curb to and through “The Chute”.

When the “Swinburne Connection | Chute Bypass” is established (see slide 21 of the presentation), the mobility trail would split would have altered the route of the Mobility Trail will skirt around the parking lot and instead climb the embankment below Swinburne, connect to the Swinburne Bridge and provide two options: either crossing the bridge and connecting directly to the Sylvan Trail or continuing straight down Swinburne Extension for a direct connection to the Jail Trail.
***

March 17, 2021

Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

Thank you for the reply. There is still a bit of confusion regarding the illustration you provided and the message in your email, Rather than make assumptions, we are including these few questions for clarity:

  • Your Mon-Oakland 4MR attachment shows the path of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail through the neighborhood, which as you stated appears to be largely unchanged from what it is today. But it does not show the path of the “mobility trail” through the neighborhood. Some people are interpreting this map as though the 3RHT route is showing the path of the shuttle through The Run. Can you clarify whether the shuttle will be taking this path shown in orange for the 3RHT? If not, can you please answer the original question: On what streets in The Run neighborhood will the shuttle travel?
  • Why is a “Swinburne Connection” being discussed when you previously stated in an email: “The mobility path is to be an exclusive pathway suitable for both light shuttles and other e-powered vehicles such as e-bikes and, when categorized, e-scooters and other such vehicles as may evolve over time. There is insufficient width on Swineburn to provide this dedicated path. The street cannot be widened due to the fragile soil conditions.” (emphasis added)?
  • For whom does the “Swinburne Connection” provide two options–cyclists or shuttles? Will shuttles be permitted on the Jail Trail?
  • What did you mean by “slivers” when you said you might need to take “slivers” of our neighbors’ properties on Acorn Street to accommodate the shuttle route on Swinburne Bridge?

~JC
***

April 26, 2021

Hello Again Ms. Ricks and Mr. Panzitta,

It has been more than a month since the previous email and we have not received a response. We wanted to give you another chance to respond before we publish an article on this topic. Do you have answers to any of the questions in our March 17 email?

Thank you,
JC
***

If we ever receive a response, we’ll be sure to post it here. In the mysterious world of the MOC, questions only lead to more unanswered questions.

Bill Seeks Additional Funds for Mon-Oakland Connector

Bill 1366, first presented at City Council’s April 6 meeting, would award $396,223.31 to Michael Baker International for work on the hotly contested Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC). The MOC, a new road through Schenley Park and two adjacent neighborhoods, is designed to accommodate privately operated shuttles between the Hazelwood Green (HG) development and the Oakland universities where HG’s desired tenants work and learn.

The bill amends one that City Council first passed in December 2018. The original bill called for “payment of the cost not to exceed $1,346,644.10.” In 2020, City Council voted for an amendment that added $289,037.40. Bill 1366 brings the total to $2,031,904.81 for Michael Baker.

Bill 1366 retains wording from previous versions that states the MOC will “support green infrastructure,” which is false on two counts. First, asphalt surfaces like parking lots and roads add runoff that contributes to flooding in The Run. The proposed shuttle road adds at least 0.80 acres (34,850 square feet) of paving to Junction Hollow. Although PWSA representatives tout a projected reduction in flooding when comparing the “current state” (doing nothing) to their model, the road’s true impact on flooding cannot be measured without an MOC-free project model. Second, the PWSA stormwater project has removed green infrastructure from its design since the original bill was written in 2018.

Bill 1366 also asserts that the MOC will “ensure safe travel” and “protect local neighborhoods” even though the MOC forces cyclists to share space with motorized vehicles in Schenley Park and commandeers streets in The Run neighborhood. Of concern to all affected communities, linear transportation projects like the MOC tend to gentrify surrounding neighborhoods.

Less than five months ago, City Council unanimously passed a budget amendment that shifted $4.15 million away from the resident-opposed project. $1.2 million of that money was allocated to creating a Sylvan Ave. trail for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as Hazelwood Complete Streets.

Residents of Hazelwood and The Run prioritized neighborhood repairs to fund; a Sylvan Ave. trail did not make the list. $1.2 million would not even cover key projects like safe street crossings in Hazelwood’s business district and an Irvine St./Second Ave. sidewalk upgrade to ADA standards. Yet City Council is considering a bill that would use one third of the MOC funds “reallocated” to Hazelwood on consulting/engineering work already planned for the phase 2/Sylvan Ave. stretch of the MOC. The MOC also has in its coffers an unknown portion of $14.5 million from the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

At the April 14 City Council Standing Meeting, Councilman O’Connor said of Bill 1366, “The title of it, I don’t like and I don’t think the neighborhood likes, but this is part of an extended agreement with Michael Baker, who’s the lead engineer with PWSA as well, so there’s a stormwater piece that is supported.”

He asked Department of Mobility and Infrastructure Director Karina Ricks to “confirm that the money goes to the geotech on Sylvan to make sure it’s stable and the second piece if you can just explain briefly the stormwater, ’cause I know we’re working with PWSA on that.”

Ricks replied, “This supplement is to complete additional geotechnical evaluation of Sylvan; it’s a complex hillside and requires—has been closed for 30 years at this point, so we’re needing to do additional exploration to make sure that that is stable and that we’re able to reopen that for the community plan as the Sylvan Connector and then the other piece of this is to complete work on an associate permit for the stormwater implementation that PWSA is leading.”

Bill 1366 plainly states that it funds the MOC, and all work identified at the April 14 meeting is needed to accommodate the MOC. What’s more, it leaves less than $1 million to fix unsafe infrastructure throughout Hazelwood.

The bill is listed as “affirmatively recommended” on the City of Pittsburgh Legistar website, but has not yet been put to a vote. Residents are encouraging Councilman O’Connor to oppose Bill 1366 and continue working with City Council to fund community-identified needs instead of the MOC, which benefits the HG development at the expense of its neighbors.

You can contact Councilman O’Connor at 412-255-8965 or corey.oconnor@pittsburghpa.gov.

Update: According to Councilman O’Connor’s chief of staff Curt Conrad, the funds for Bill 1366 “are not coming out of Hazelwood funds the councilman allocated in the most recent budget. The $1.2 million is still preserved for trail improvements along Sylvan. The funds for Michael Baker are coming from 2019 PayGO and Bond funds” as shown in the table he provided below.

Budget YearSourcePrevious EncumbranceCurrent EncumbranceTotal Encumbrance
2018PayGo$1,380,000.00$1,380,000.00
2019PayGo$255,681.50$276,663.50$532,345.00
2019Bond$119,559.81$119,559.81
 TOTAL$1,635,681.50$396,223.31$2,031,904.81

Two interesting takeaways from this information:

  1. It appears the $397K comes from the $14.5 million for the MOC in the 2018 and 2019 budgets.
  2. The entire $1.2 million from the reallocated 2021 MOC funds is going to “trail improvements along Sylvan” rather than repairs to existing sidewalks in Hazelwood.

55M More Reasons to Defund the Mon-Oakland Connector

The COVID-19 emergency has shone a harsh light on Pittsburgh’s funding priorities. One glaring example is the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC), a controversial luxury microtransit project that primarily serves the Hazelwood Green development and has earned distrust from residents of affected communities.

The foundations that own Hazelwood Green imagine it as a second campus for CMU and Pitt. In a 2009 report, the Remaking Cities Institute of Carnegie Mellon University called a dedicated connection between Oakland and Hazelwood “the singular most important gesture that will ensure the success of the ALMONO site’s redevelopment.” (emphasis in original)

“What was problematic before the pandemic became unconscionable in this climate,” said Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit. “Funding this project would mean that other critical needs aren’t being met right now.”

Pittsburgh, like many cities, was hit hard. “Our tax revenues cratered, and there is still no clear path forward to replace them,” Mayor Bill Peduto stated in his 2021 budget speech. Pittsburgh faced a $55 million operating budget deficit at the close of 2020, and is depending on federal aid to avoid $25.6 million in personnel cuts starting in July 2021. About 634 city employees stand to lose their jobs.

A unanimously-approved budget amendment proposed by Councilman Corey O’Connor, whose district includes two MOC-affected communities, moved $4.15 million from the MOC. Those funds made up the 2021 budget for the MOC. They were redirected to the Housing Opportunity Fund (this citywide program received $1.9 million—$750,000 of which is earmarked for the Flats on Forward development in Squirrel Hill, leaving a little over half for Pittsburghers struggling to stay in existing housing), support for small businesses, and infrastructure improvements in Hazelwood.

Yet plans move forward to build the MOC shuttle road through Schenley Park and adjacent neighborhoods. Almono Partners spokesperson David Caliguiri said the foundations “believe the Mon-Oakland Connector remains a critical economic development effort for the City of Pittsburgh and the entire region” and are committed to funding the shuttle service. MOC may have lost 2021 funds from its total price tag of $23 million, but it’s still flush with an unknown portion of $14.5 million already granted in the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

The MOC has a long, shady history (its most recent chapter began with a fraudulent grant application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development) and continues to function as a magic-bag project with components and costs that morph according to justifications needed for it at any given time. For example, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) claimed in a January 2020 memo that Irvine St./Second Ave. sidewalk repairs in Hazelwood—a key component of the community-generated Our Money, Our Solutions alternative plan—was always part of the MOC. By October, DOMI’s commitment to fund those repairs had vanished from the MOC budget.

For some neighborhoods—especially Panther Hollow and The Run—harm from the MOC goes beyond diverting limited resources. Two groups of residents in The Run are at risk of being displaced by the shuttle road: those who live near Swinburne Bridge, which DOMI has decided to replace rather than repair so the bridge can be widened for a dedicated MOC shuttle lane; and those who live in flood-prone areas near Big Jim’s.

The first group has already received letters from DOMI implying the City may use eminent domain to take property for the bridge replacement. The second group is some or all of the “affected properties” listed in PWSA documents concerning their Four Mile Run Stormwater Project. These internal documents, obtained through Right-to-Know requests, also reveal that the stormwater project was designed around the MOC and will not adequately protect people’s homes. One proposed solution involves a “discussion regarding property acquisition and other discussions that will not be widely popular.” The stormwater project, for which the PWSA secured $40 million, was billed as a solution to The Run’s flooding problem. But less than half of those funds are being spent on stormwater work in Schenley Park. According to PWSA acting senior manager of public affairs Rebecca Zito, “The remaining funding can go towards future projects in the upper portions of the watershed, provide opportunities to collaborate with the universities and other community organizations on future stormwater projects, or revisit some of the original green infrastructure projects planned for Panther Hollow Stream and Phipps Run.” (emphasis added)

Besides forcing families out—some of whom have lived in The Run for three generations—the legally questionable use of eminent domain to serve a development project also removes affected properties from the tax rolls. About 40% of land in Pittsburgh is already tax-exempt because the government, universities, and other non-profits own it.

A lack of accountability and transparency surrounding the MOC has allowed DOMI to plan at will behind a screen of public-facing gestures since the department’s inception in 2017. But signs point to a reckoning for the MOC. According to the TransitCenter organization, “PPT is working with the city auditor to assess options for formally moving the money, and to make recommendations about how that money should be spent.”

In past years, City officials have answered public calls to defund the MOC by saying those capital budget funds can’t be applied to other areas of need like the operating budget. This position becomes harder to maintain now that $1.9 million has been moved from the MOC to the Housing Opportunity Fund, decidedly not part of the capital budget.

There is no shortage of ways Pittsburgh could reallocate $14.5 million to meet critical needs of residents. Keeping those funds in reserve for an unpopular, top-down project like the MOC is a disgrace in today’s austere climate.

8 Urgent Questions for PWSA Board of Directors Re. Stormwater Project

On February 26, 2021, Ziggy Edwards of The Run addressed PWSA’s board of directors at their monthly meeting. She brought concerns from her neighborhood that the design and implementation of PWSA’s Four Mile Run (4MR) Stormwater Project suffers from skewed priorities. The project, which will include major construction on the only road into The Run, focuses on accommodating the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) rather than fixing severe flooding.

The following questions, which PWSA also received via email, are based on information in the Right-to-Know (RTK) request documents we have received so far and independent expert analysis of the plan submitted with the permit application to the PA Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

1. Why did the Heinz Endowments pay Howard Neukrug (past Philadelphia Water Commissioner) to review the PWSA stormwater project? (source: PWSA/CEC 4MR Weekly Meeting Minutes, April 16, 2019)

2. How much of the $40 million for the PWSA stormwater project did not come from the Heinz Endowments and/or other foundations that own the Hazelwood Green development?

3. How can the three new PWSA board members, who all have ties to entities with vested interests in the Hazelwood Green (HG) development, oversee the stormwater project in a fair and impartial manner that doesn’t benefit HG at the expense of Schenley Park and residents in The Run? For that matter, how can the other board members be fair and impartial in this project when they were all directly nominated by Mayor Peduto (a longtime proponent of the MOC)?

4. As you may know, the proposed MOC adds at least 0.80 acres (34,850 square feet) of paving to Junction Hollow. With the types of storms Pittsburgh has had in the past 10 years, a year with 50 inches of rain would generate an additional 1 million+ gallons of runoff to The Run. Why does the plan in the permit application propose to pollute this stormwater runoff by directing it from the MOC to the existing combined sewer system and not to the new stormwater network that flows directly to the river?

5. Did any consultant not funded by HG owners evaluate the impact of this stormwater project design on The Run? What did the consultants say about the absence of stormwater inlets of pipes along the proposed MOC road? What did they say about the absence of stormwater runoff from the road to the daylighted stream?

6. Is it true that the PWSA stormwater project’s construction plan calls for 4MR Field across Alexis Street from Big Jim’s to be used as a staging area for construction equipment and materials?

7. Because the “Parkway side” of the 4MR watershed is excluded from PWSA’s stormwater project, residents of The Run are still likely to see stormwater arrive in our neighborhood from that side of 4MR—even after this highly disruptive project is completed. Any flood water that enters the combined sewer network above The Run will still be in the combined sewer pipes running under the neighborhood. Therefore, if the volume of stormwater entering the combined sewer pipes above The Run is greater than those combined sewer pipes can handle, we are still likely to see raw sewage come to the surface from the remaining combined sewer inlets and/or manholes. Why is none of the $41 million earmarked for this project, which was billed as a solution to flooding in The Run, being spent on remediating the “Parkway side” of 4MR?

8. Is the PWSA board of directors aware that PWSA was ordered by the Office of Open Records to complete a review and provide the rest of its documents responsive to our RTK request? The deadline was yesterday [February 25, 2021]. At 8:52 p.m. we received a link to a zip file with a password that doesn’t work. Will the board encourage PWSA Attorney Samuel Hornak to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, since PWSA effectively missed the deadline?

Suddenly Swinburne

Schenley Park, Swinburne Street. Why don't we have both?

Proposed shuttle expansion route threatens homes

Developers of the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) aren’t deterred by years of setbacks—including widespread community opposition and City Council passing a 2021 budget amendment that shifts funds away from building the new shuttle road through two Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Schenley Park. If anything, plans presented by the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) and Almono Partners at their last public meeting show a stronger resolve to eliminate all obstacles in the MOC’s path.

Slide 11 maps the proposed phase 1 MOC route, which ends abruptly as it enters The Run from Schenley Park. Residents were left in the dark about the path of shuttles through their small neighborhood.

Slide 11 from October 2020 MOC meeting

Although this meeting marked the first time an Almono Partners representative was on hand to answer questions about the shuttle service they plan to run on the road, they did not show The Run in their presentation, either (see slide 37).

Slide 37 from October 2020 MOC meeting
Slide 37 from October 2020 MOC meeting
The slide refers to “trails” (plural) and “public streets” with no indication of which streets in The Run will be used.

The “Swinburne connector” (slide 22) climbs a landslide-prone hillside and merges with Swinburne Street for access to Swinburne Bridge. An FAQ on DOMI’s website says this additional road would “have a path width of 16 feet with 2-foot buffers on each side.” Longtime followers of the MOC debacle and Run residents find this phase 2 plan equally troubling for several reasons.

Slide 22 from October 2020 MOC meeting

For context, we revisit a January 2018 public meeting DOMI organized to “share the potential alternative routes” for the MOC. Run residents had no trust after learning of the plan from a 2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article touting an already-submitted grant application that turned out to be fraudulent. DOMI, created in 2017, claimed they were pushing the restart button on the MOC concept and seeking input from affected communities.

Michael Baker Corporation presented six routes at the meeting, including five community suggestions that left Schenley Park undisturbed. Attendees reported that the exercise seemed designed to herd them toward a conclusion that only the Schenley Park route could work. Alternatives included Swinburne Street.

DOMI director Karina Ricks later expressed a preference for the Swinburne route, but said it was not feasible because of landslides. Landslides have plagued Swinburne Street for decades; one in the 1980s caused damage in Junction Hollow that led the city to close Boundary Street to motorized vehicles. This section of Boundary Street eventually became a popular bike and pedestrian trail through Schenley Park that forms a critical link in the only car-free path between Oakland and downtown.

Given the ongoing landslides, MOC critics questioned Ricks when subsequent designs showed the inevitable Schenley Park shuttle route running along the hill beneath Swinburne Street. How could Swinburne be deemed unsuitable for small shuttles yet frequently accommodate cars, trucks, UPMC shuttles, emergency vehicles, and school buses? And since Swinburne must be stabilized to prevent a collapse onto the proposed road, why not make Swinburne the route instead of spending millions of additional taxpayer dollars to build a new road?

Ricks responded via email, “The mobility path is to be an exclusive pathway suitable for both light shuttles and other e-powered vehicles such as e-bikes and, when categorized, e-scooters and other such vehicles as may evolve over time. There is insufficient width on Swineburn to provided this dedicated path. The street cannot be widened due to the fragile soil conditions.” (emphasis added)

Swinburne Street is 19.8 feet wide on average at its narrowest point. This is significantly wider than the proposed road, which forces cyclists into close contact with shuttles. But the width is still insufficient to accommodate both existing traffic and a new “exclusive pathway” that is “16 feet with 2-foot buffers on each side.” Whatever happened to the fragile soil conditions that prevented Swinburne Street from being widened?

According to minutes from a February 2019 meeting in Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, Ricks “noted the mobility trail can’t support future traffic loads so additional transportation alternatives would be needed for future traffic loads.” DOMI first proposed widening Swinburne Bridge to accommodate a dedicated lane for MOC shuttles in February 2018, presenting an option that featured a vehicle elevator from Four Mile Run Park below. Since then, serious consequences of the Swinburne route have come into view.

2018 DOMI illustration of vehicle elevator concept
Owners of houses near Swinburne Bridge received letters referencing eminent domain.

In August 2020, several Run residents who live near Swinburne Bridge received letters from DOMI implying they may lose their homes and businesses through eminent domain. The bridge has been neglected over many years and needs repair, so residents are required to allow surveyors on their property. Although repairs could be completed with no need to acquire properties, replacing Swinburne Bridge allows DOMI to widen it for the purpose of accommodating a dedicated MOC shuttle lane.

Ricks addressed resident concerns by stating, “It is a letter written by a lawyer and, unfortunately, they do reference the right of eminent domain. The City has absolutely no intention to take properties [as part of the bridge construction]. There is a possibility there might be some slivers that will be needed to create new footings for the bridge.”

Within a week of property owners receiving the letters, an AWK Consulting Engineers team arrived in The Run. One affected property owner noticed a surveyor working in Four Mile Run Field (The Run’s only community green space). Asked why he was so far from the bridge, the AWK employee said it was because they might need to widen the bridge.

Residents throughout The Run face harm from still more asphalt surfaces and permanent tree canopy loss upstream from their homes. Phase 1 of the MOC has already compromised the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s stormwater project in the area because accommodating the shuttle road is a design requirement. The stormwater project enjoys nearly universal public support because it was sold as a solution to The Run’s chronic flooding problem. But building the half-mile road through Schenley Park would generate about 295,000 gallons of additional runoff.

DOMI calls the MOC a “mobility trail” to avoid admitting it is a road—and if the MOC can be called a trail, its shuttles can run on any trail. An additional leg of the “Swinburne Connection” extends into the UPMC shuttle lot toward Second Avenue, which also happens to link to the Eliza Furnace Trail, another crucial part of Pittsburgh’s car-free network.

The MOC is a reiteration of an old idea. And it continues to shamble forward, powered by $14 million from previous budget years. The “Swinburne Connection” reveals MOC planners deceiving residents yet again, feinting away from an “alternative” route they planned to use in addition to rather than instead of Schenley Park. Communities should not be asked—let alone forced—to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a development project that serves private interests.

Letter to PA Dept. of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

image from permit application

Pennsylvania State DEP
Dana Drake, P.E.
dadrake@pa.gov
Phone: 412-442-4149 l Fax: 412-442-4242

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Mike Engelhardt
Michael.D.Engelhardt@usace.army.mil
Phone: 412-395-7141

Dear Ms. Drake and Mr. Engelhardt,

This open letter concerns the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) permit application for the Four Mile Run Stormwater Project:

Pennsylvania State DEP ID: E0205220-031
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Permit ID: CELRP-RG LRP-2018-774

As you know, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) is attempting to get their developer-driven Mon-Oakland Mobility Project (also known as the Mon-Oakland Connector, or MOC) approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) by attaching it to the PWSA stormwater project.

These two projects do not belong together.

Junction Coalition joins numerous individuals, community organizations, and public representatives in calling for the PA DEP and USACE to send this permit application back to PWSA with direction to remove the DOMI project from the application before the permit is approved.

The PWSA stormwater project enjoys nearly universal public support because it was sold as a solution to The Run’s chronic flooding problem. Run residents have been asking for help to fix the flooding for more than a decade. They were told the city lacked funds as the problem worsened from combined effects of climate change and unregulated overdevelopment of surrounding higher-elevation areas.

A 2009 flood, which PWSA labels a 75-year event, caused catastrophic damage: Cars floated down the streets in 6+ feet of water and sewage, while residents watched 70+ inches of the mix breach the first floor of their homes. 

A 25-year flood event in 2016 gained citywide attention when dramatic footage showed firefighters rescuing a resident and his son from the roof of their car. Later that year, Mayor Bill Peduto tasked PWSA with finding funds and developing a plan to fix the flooding.

A city-mandated 2017 survey of Run residents recorded unanimous demand for flood relief and a large majority of residents adamantly opposing the MOC.

The MOC is a road through a public park that debuted to Run residents in a 2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reporting the project as a done deal. It is a huge investment of taxpayer dollars in a private development plan that studies show does not meet Pittsburgh’s stated goals. Even DOMI director Karina Ricks admits that the MOC is not a transportation solution.

Instead of responding to residents’ legitimate concerns about the MOC, public employees twisted those concerns to seem like a baseless fear of progress. They tried to pit neighboring communities against each other. They filed fraudulent grant applications and applied for new grants without telling the public. They used public meetings for time-share marketing tactics rather than honest discussion, pretending to consider alternative routes for the shuttles before again settling on Schenley Park. They responded to Right-to-Know requests with claims of attorney-client privilege and a 7,185-page unsearchable PDF. They obscured and constantly changed details such as the route. And recently, several Run residents who live near one of the rejected alternative routes received letters from DOMI implying they may lose their homes and businesses through eminent domain.

These are not the actions of people with good intentions. If the MOC benefited those who live in the communities it affects, Mayor Peduto’s administration would not need to resort to duplicity and steamrolling. Furthermore, if Hazelwood Green’s powerful owners had no desire to annex Schenley Park and adjoining neighborhoods, they would drop their single-minded focus on getting shovels in the ground as soon as possible and instead support alternative plans such as Our Money, Our Solutions that offer more effective transportation for more people without causing the harms of MOC. 

Evidence shows that PWSA’s stormwater plan fails to prioritize the severe flooding issue and was designed to accommodate the MOC project. In their current 10-year flood event design, PWSA is following behind-closed-doors directions from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office. From their budget of $40 million, PWSA listed their flood mitigation efforts at $14 million. Asked where the remaining $26 million would be spent, PWSA responded via email, “The remaining funding can go towards future projects in the upper portions of the watershed” and “provide opportunities to collaborate with the universities.” All PWSA Board members are nominated by Mayor Peduto, a longtime MOC proponent. PWSA’s plan includes several wish-list items of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, a private entity on whose Board of Directors Mayor Peduto sits.

Expert consultants who have analyzed the current PWSA stormwater plan tell residents:

  • The proposed Mon-Oakland Connector project would most likely harm flood control—with an approximately 1/2-mile long (39,600 sq ft) impervious surface that eliminates 7 acres of old-growth tree canopy from Schenley Park. That amount of paving would generate about 295,000 gallons of runoff. Every acre of impervious surface generates 27,000 gallons of runoff for each inch of rain and Pittsburgh has seen a range from around 36-60 inches of rain over the last 10 years. PWSA has not proven that including the MOC will not harm flood control and has refused repeated requests for all engineering plans/documents of the PWSA stormwater project for independent analysis.
  • PWSA concentrates the stormwater work in the Schenley Park/Oakland end of the watershed, which would address only 1/3 of flooding in The Run. The rest comes from the opposite end of the watershed—the Squirrel Hill/Greenfield/376 Parkway end. Although it only accounts for 1/3 of the cause of flooding, the water/sewage mix from 5,200 structures above Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park feed into a 50-inch pipe that completely bypasses the Panther Hollow/Junction Hollow area of the watershed and feeds directly into The Run. PWSA’s plan does not address this specific connection and its effects on the neighborhood. 
  • PWSA’s plan would level approximately 7 acres of tree canopy to make room for the MOC project (beginning with 900 trees in the northern end), which will never be replaced in the space the roadway would commandeer. Furthermore, replacement saplings will not equal the water absorption of 7 acres of mature trees.
  • PWSA’s 10-year event plan “makes no sense”—unless it involves changing the floodplain and eliminating properties. RTK-obtained notes from a Mayor’s office meeting show PWSA Chief of Program Management Alex Sciulli stating, “More cost-effective options may be to change the floodplain and purchase the affected properties.” The “cost-effective” plan makes sense only within a larger plan to raze the neighborhood, forcing out residents and demolishing structures instead of the promised flood mitigation.

Flooding in The Run is a serious health and safety issue that cannot be ignored to serve developers’ financial interests. Therefore:

  • The dual permit application from PWSA and DOMI to the PA DEP and USACE must be denied, and PWSA must be directed to fully separate the two projects. 
  • The PWSA plan must prioritize the flooding issue instead of merely providing cover for an unwanted, unnecessary road that will permanently degrade Schenley Park and eventually erase two historic Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
  • PWSA must present a plan acceptable to residents whose lives and properties are at risk. Such a plan would include:
    • Documentation of studies done to assess the impact of MOC on the PWSA stormwater plan.
    • An Environmental Impact Study on the overall stormwater plan.
    • A Community Benefits Agreement guaranteeing compensation to residents who suffer damage from future flooding, as many residents currently cannot acquire flood insurance.

We are disappointed in your timing of the public comment period on this joint permit application to coincide with the holiday season. We hope you will give this important matter the time and impartial consideration it deserves.

Sincerely,  

 Junction Coalition

O’Connor Budget Amendment Shifts Funds from Shuttle Road

Like many high-stakes public meetings this year, the Dec. 14 city budget hearing drew virtual crowds so large that technical glitches left some without access to public comment. Attendees expressed outrage at the priorities reflected in Mayor Bill Peduto’s 2021 budget, and several came out in support of Councilman Corey O’Connor’s proposed amendment that moves $4.15 million from the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) project to affordable housing programs and support for small businesses throughout Pittsburgh as well as infrastructure improvements in Hazelwood.

City Council unanimously passed Councilman O’Connor’s amendment. O’Connor said that “projects like [the MOC] don’t need to happen right now,” and this year the funds can instead help tackle economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

How 2021 MOC funds are redistributed

  • $1.9 million for the city’s Housing Opportunity Fund
  • $1 million for bike and pedestrian infrastructure in Hazelwood
  • $500,000 to housing in federally designated areas
  • $420,000 to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s small business programs
  • $270,000 to the Avenues of Hope business district grants for historically Black neighborhoods, including Irvine St./Second Ave. (The program, introduced by Mayor Peduto, previously had no funding.)

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In addition, O’Connor pointed to a longstanding lack of transparency surrounding the MOC project. “The money that was put towards this project a few years ago never had line items as to where it was going,” he said.

Besides the MOC money Mayor Peduto requested for 2021, he committed a total of $14.5 million from the capital budget to the project in 2018 and 2019. The MOC is expected to cost $23 million overall.

Many residents of the communities MOC would affect, including Hazelwood and Greenfield, have opposed it since learning of the plan from a 2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reporting on a grant the city had already applied for. The project would build a road through the southwestern corner of Schenley Park and “The Run” section of Greenfield to accommodate privately operated shuttles between Oakland university campuses and the Hazelwood Green development.

The Run faces harm from the MOC beyond losing limited resources that should go to critical needs. The small neighborhood, along with Panther Hollow on the other side of Schenley Park, has a long history of ambitious plans that exclude residents

In August, several Run residents who live near Swinburne Bridge received letters from DOMI implying they may lose their homes and businesses through eminent domain. The bridge would be widened to include a dedicated lane for the MOC shuttles, which DOMI proposed in 2018 as an option that featured a vehicle elevator.  

If Hazelwood Green’s powerful owners were not motivated by a desire to annex Schenley Park and adjoining neighborhoods, they would drop their single-minded focus on getting shovels in the ground as soon as possible and instead support alternative plans such as Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS) that more effectively meet Pittsburgh’s stated goals without causing the harms of MOC. 

The community-driven plan has led to weekend service on the 93 bus line and forced DOMI to claim that key components of OMOS, such as Irvine St./Second Ave. sidewalk repairs, were always part of the MOC plan. It also calls for expanding the 75 bus line into Hazelwood.

With a lot of hard work, our communities are shifting the focus of our own tax dollars. This $4.15 million for citywide relief and essential repairs in Hazelwood is a significant step in the right direction.

Our Neighborhoods’ Problems Are “Connectored”

The adjoining communities of Hazelwood and The Run share more than a ZIP code: They are the two neighborhoods most directly affected by the Hazelwood Green development and its most controversial feature, the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road through Schenley Park.

Hazelwood Green owner Almono Partners commissioned the road, funded with $23 million of Pittsburgh’s capital budget, primarily to link its development to university campuses in Oakland—but says its shuttles will improve mobility for Hazelwood residents. (Almono Partners has voiced no interest in improving anything for Run residents, except perhaps their odds of moving away.)

Getting in and out of Hazelwood can be a major problem, partly because the three streets that serve as entrance/exit points suffer from decades of neglect. The stretch of Irvine Street between Greenfield Avenue and Hazelwood Avenue is a prime example. It contains just about every dangerous condition imaginable for pedestrians, cyclists, and even motorists. A fatal car crash in January 2019 involved frozen seepage from the hill above the east side of the road. This same water helps create year-round hazards on City-owned sidewalks that have disintegrated beside speeding traffic. Vehicles often block other sections of the sidewalk, forcing travelers into the road.   

Only the bravest/most desperate walkers and bikers consider Irvine Street an option—and for people using wheelchairs or pushing strollers, it’s not an option at all. Nor is the long way around through Hazelwood Green accessible to them because it involves navigating steps or crossing Second Avenue.

Irvine Street offers the most direct connection between Hazelwood and The Run. The one-mile distance would be easy to cross if not for the serious risks involved. Residents of Hazelwood could safely access Schenley Park without a car. And Run residents would find it much simpler to reach their nearest post office, library, and shops in Hazelwood.

Fixing this dangerous stretch of sidewalk has been identified as a priority by everyone involved. The Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan lists sidewalk construction and improvements as a key strategy to give residents and visitors access to Hazelwood. Our Money. Our Solutions., a community-driven alternative to the MOC, calls for an “Irvine/Second Avenue sidewalk audit and replacement/install to ensure ADA-compliant width and curb cuts, from Greenfield Ave. through the Hazelwood business district.”

Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), which is responsible for building the MOC, listed “2nd Avenue sidewalk” as a component of the MOC project in a January 2020 memo to City Council. DOMI committed $700,000 to the sidewalk (to be matched by a potential grant from the state of Pennsylvania). The memo marked the first time DOMI publicly identified certain components (including the sidewalk) as part of the project and broke down costs.

However, in DOMI’s latest budget presented at their October public meetings concerning the MOC, the sidewalk funding has disappeared. It’s unclear whether DOMI will receive the state grant they say they applied for.

Compare the ill-defined, will-o’-the-wisp accounting of the Irvine Street sidewalk funding to the single-minded focus with which the MOC has been pushed over the past five years. Even in the midst of a pandemic that has left Pittsburgh with a $100+ million budget shortfall, the MOC is the city’s single largest transportation corridor investment.

Some say budgets are moral documents. At the very least, Pittsburgh’s budget represents a statement of its priorities. Building a road through a public park for private shuttles in no way reflects the priorities of Pittsburghers, who are being asked to fund this project.

Irvine Street/Second Avenue is only one glaring example of community needs unmet in favor of funding the MOC. As members of these communities, we still have a chance to come together and advocate for the money to go toward improvements we’ve been requesting for years.   

It’s high time for City Controller Michael Lamb to audit the $14.5 million already budgeted to the MOC in 2018 and 2019. Please join us in encouraging him to do so by calling 412-255-2054 or emailing City_Controller@pittsburghpa.gov.

Furthermore, City Council must demand a line-item listing of the additional $4.15 million requested for 2021 to make sure these funds are directed first to fixing existing infrastructure—rather than creating new infrastructure of questionable value to existing communities. Our public money should prioritize solutions to our problems, not developers’ wishes.  

Pittsburghers Speak Out Against Shuttle Road

As promised, we are gathering statements from DOMI’s public meeting concerning the proposed road through Schenley Park. Below you’ll find quotes from residents of affected communities, activists, transit advocates, university students, and others—along with links to their full statements. We’ve also included those who didn’t get a chance to speak or could not attend the meeting. If you fall into any of these categories and would like us to publish your statement here, please email junctioncoalition@gmail.com.


“As a campus spiritual advisor I often talk with students about their responsibility as members of an institution that wields considerable power and influence over the neighbors who make their homes here. That they should amplify the voices of neighbors whose opinions and needs sometimes been cast aside for the sake of development.

And in this case I have yet to hear from any Hazelwood, Greenfield, or Oakland residents who are demanding a private shuttle between Oakland and Hazelwood Green. What I do hear loudly from my neighbors is a need for increased bus service.”
Mike Holohan, The Run
Read more »

“No matter what you would offer in money for my business, it wouldn’t be enough to start over somewhere else.” —Dana Provenzano, Zano’s Pub
Read more »

“Who’s going to really benefit if the capacity is 1,000 riders a day—if that’s the ultimate capacity and you’re going to displace 20,000 cars a day? The math does not figure…When I say this, I say this as an 81-year resident of Hazelwood. I get calls every day from gentrifiers who want to buy my property.”
Homer Craig, Hazelwood
Read more »

“During this fight, we have won some major improvements to the City’s original plan. These include a flood mitigation project in Four Mile Run, park enhancements, and bike and pedestrian improvements—none of which were part of the original concept. We also won weekend service on the 93 bus starting next month—connecting residents of Hazelwood and Greenfield to Oakland, Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield, and Lawrenceville—actually improving mobility for our communities while the City and DOMI have done nothing but waste millions in consulting and design fees.” —Barb Warwick, The Run
Read more »

“Our city is facing a massive budget shortfall and unless you live in Donald Trump’s fantasy world, you know it’s likely to get worse. But despite the clear need to redirect a vastly reduced budget to human needs, my city insists on spending almost $20 million on a boondoggle that no community favors.”
Mel Packer, Point Breeze
Read more »

“The project does not benefit the people who live here and is a blatant attempt to destroy our community and give the land to universities and developers.” —Susan Cohen, The Run
Read more »

“If I’m wrong and this is a mass transportation project, well, you guys should fund the Our Money, Our Solutions plan instead because it does everything that this could hope to accomplish—better, faster, cheaper and without any of the associated harms.” —Laura Chu Wiens, Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Read more »

“Every justification put forth for building the road has been proven false. Proponents are now at a loss for any argument other than, ‘We have to build it because we’ve been secretly planning this for years!'”
Ray Gerard, Lower Greenfield
Read more »

“The City recognizes the seriousness of Climate Change, does not dispute the science behind these issues, yet continues to adhere to the model of development that is driving these issues. The Climate Action Plan states unequivocally, ‘HALT the conversion of forest canopy to development’ and such a conversion is exactly what is being proposed here.”
Matt Peters, Hazelwood
Read more »

“These are not the actions of people with good intentions. If the MOC benefited those who live in the communities it affects, Mayor Peduto’s administration would not need to resort to duplicity and steamrolling.”
Ziggy Edwards, The Run
Read more »

Shuttle Road Slammed at Packed Meeting

Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility & Infrastructure (DOMI) hoped its October 21 public meeting on the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC), the first in almost a year, would give citizens one final chance to feel useful arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But they ran out of deck chairs: The virtual Zoom meeting quickly surpassed its original 100-participant limit and blocked many from joining. After about 20 minutes, meeting organizers solved the problem by expanding capacity to 200 and attendance nearly topped that limit as well.

For the first time, a representative of Almono Limited Partnership (owners of the Hazelwood Green development) was on hand to answer questions from the public. Earlier in the week, Almono unveiled their plan to operate shuttles on the proposed road that uses Schenley Park to connect Hazelwood Green with the universities in Oakland.

Pittsburgh City Council member Corey O’Connor, who represents the affected communities of Hazelwood and Greenfield, was frustrated by the presentation. “We are finally getting answers to some of our questions, which I think is the biggest joke of all time because we’ve been waiting six years for them,” he said.

Councilman O’Connor said the frustration “dates back to the first meeting when we showed up and we had five squiggly lines [representing potential routes for the shuttles] going different ways and we knew we were only going to use one line [the route through Schenley Park] at the beginning, and that was it.”

Alternatives to the MOC plan exist, although the City has failed to give them meaningful consideration.

Our Money. Our Solutions. is a “holistic mobility package” created by residents, community organizations, and others in the affected neighborhoods in cooperation with Pittsburghers for Public Transit. Run resident Barb Warwick said the plan “would provide our communities with faster, more effective, and more affordable bus service to many more locations than just Oakland.”

Richard Feder, an adjunct professor of transportation engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, spoke on behalf the Hazelwood BRT project proposal, which resulted from the 2020 Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission planning study of the State Route 885 and Second Avenue corridor.

“Even worse,” Councilman O’Connor continued, “and this is for my residents in The Run—and I hope this is not true, but the $41 million that we were promised for [the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project] has now turned into 16 million…If it doesn’t stop the flooding problem and protect people, then it’s a bigger farce than it was at the beginning.”

According to PWSA’s own presentation from June 2020, the number is closer to $14 million. In their September 2020 presentation, PWSA tried to cover their tracks by adding costly items they remembered over the summer.     

Councilman O’Connor’s constituents responded in the chat with resounding support of his remarks.

David Caliguiri, the Almono consultant in attendance, characterized the proposed shuttle as “just one part” of “a suite of enhanced transit options.”

Jonah McAllister-Erickson of Pittsburghers for Public Transit responded in a comment, “The constant in the many many iterations [of the MOC plan] has been the shuttle. The idea that this isn’t about the shuttle is laughable. It is and has always been about some sort of shuttle.”

DOMI director Karina Ricks admitted the shuttle component is key because it aims to spur development at Hazelwood Green.

Many MOC opponents expressed concern about the lack of plans in place to protect renters in Hazelwood and Greenfield from the increased housing costs that such large-scale development projects always bring.

Run resident Ziggy Edwards said the City has a long history of deceptive actions related to the MOC project, and that several of her neighbors near the Swinburne Bridge recently received letters from DOMI citing eminent domain.

Ricks responded, “It is a letter written by a lawyer and, unfortunately, they do reference the right of eminent domain. The City has absolutely no intention to take properties [as part of the bridge construction]. There is a possibility there might be some slivers that will be needed to create new footings for the bridge.”   

“She just referred to our neighborhood homes and properties as ‘slivers,’” commented Run resident Justin Macey. “These are our HOMES.”

Hazelwood Initiative director Sonia Tilghman discussed foundation-supported programs in Hazelwood that have allowed her organization to buy 63 occupied units and keep them affordable.

“My concern generally,” said Tilghman, “is that as transportation and access improves to the [Hazelwood] neighborhood—which it absolutely has to—whether that’s through [the MOC project] or through the additional 75 or the 93 [bus lines], we will continue to feel gentrification pressures. And it’s not a fight that we can do alone, so we need additional affordable housing like Gladstone School—we have a partner in that. All of those units will be [for people with incomes] 60% or below AMI [area median income]—it’s not 60-80% where you could find a decent unit without the subsidy. So we’re working on that.”

No organizations or programs exist to provide similar protection to residents in The Run, who would experience the most direct and profound disruptions to their community from the MOC plan.

Earl Danielson commented, “I’ve sat here and listened to a lot of rhetoric … I understand the resistance and the ‘not in my back yard’ mentality of the Run residents but I just wanted to voice my opinion as a property owner in Hazelwood that, properly implemented, the corridor and the connector could be a huge net plus and address many of the issues on the dearth of employment opportunities and shopping and a lot of the other issues that have been hung on Hazelwood since the late ’80s.” 

Hazelwood resident Dylan Rooke responded to Danielson in the chat, “@earl do you live in Hazelwood, or just own 7 investment properties as DANIELSON FAMILY PARTNERSHIP LLLP? gentrification benefits investment property holders against residents, especially renters.”

Moderator Ivette Mongalo-Winston, owner of Mongalo-Winston Consulting LLC, chimed in on the chat, “Please keep this dialogue respectful- re: NIMBY discussion- this is not a personal issue.”

One might wish Mongalo-Winston had been referring to Danielson’s characterization of Run residents as NIMBYs rather than Rooke’s subsequent comment, but this was not the case. Although the comment contained information that reflected poorly on Danielson’s position, it was truthful and entirely relevant. Many MOC opponents went out of their way to display civility.  

Hazelwood resident Eric Williams commented, “@Earl. I disagree with you, but I respect you for representing the other side.”

A record of the meeting is available on the MOC (renamed the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project) website. The partial video begins after the Zoom limit issue had been addressed. Names of foundation and project representatives on the call were not repeated so they are not part of the record. The complete chat transcript includes discussion of the technical difficulties during the first presentation.

Numerous residents, transit advocates, and university students spoke in opposition to the shuttle road. We will devote a separate post to their statements, as well as statements from those who did not get a chance to speak.