Thursday, January 28, 2010

Buncher Co Land Fight May Hold Up Light Rail

Up until very recently, I wasn't following the many dream Pittsburgh light rail systems floating around on napkins around town. From what I had heard, Peduto's idea of some kind of loop linking Downtown with the Strip, Bloomfield, Oakland and Shadyside made the most sense. (although, I really thought the cost estimate I once heard of only $25 million seemed absurdly low ball)Of course it makes sense-- I thought of it myself after living in Pittsburgh for one week.

The reasonable plans imagine using existing but underused old rail corridors and easements and almost all go through the Strip.

Such system would vastly increase the potential land uses and density levels along the route meaning more potential cash for almost everyone. It's a win, win so who would have a problem with it?

Well, already the problems are here.

"Although the tracks from 16th to 21st streets were removed or covered over in the 1980s, AVR contends it held the easement to operate rail service in the corridor, and that Buncher was barred from developing the strip of land once occupied by the tracks.

When AVR's chief executive officer, Russell Peterson, and a consultant met with Buncher's president, Tom Balestrieri, in September 2008 to invite the company into a public-private partnership to build a transit-oriented development between 16th and 21st streets, Mr. Balestrieri told them the easement didn't exist, Mr. Peterson said in a filing to the transportation board."

Now I want to make myself clear, (oooops, I really mean it) I'm pretty much a Libertarian and pretty much opposed to all eminent domain uses beyond the most extreme public needs and I really don't think transportation routes fit the bill at all. 90% of the time if a project really makes sense, it will gain support and justify the purchase price of land or rights. People always say they need public power to do what the market won't. Most of the time this is because the idea doesn't make a lot of sense in the first place.

I also have no knowledge at all of this contract. Still, I am pretty shocked and amazed, that a large property owner in the Strip wouldn't see how light rail would vastly increase the value of it's holdings by opening The Strip up to really dense, walkable mixed uses. Even more amazing, is that there's so little talk about these plans. I mean we live in a city that has bulldozed vast areas for Sports Stadiums and almost every other use.

Most people don't know that there is at least one major transit system in Hong Kong run by an incredibly profitable private company which also develops major apartment, office and shopping developments along it's routes.

( The plan talked about in the Post, once again-- focuses on linking to suburban areas instead of creating a comprehensive route in the city. Which, since it serves mostly low and moderate density areas offers little or no chance of paying for itself either by attracting enough riders or through increased property tax collections)

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