Port Authority of Allegheny County finalized a $1 million contract on Friday with a New York consulting firm that will study how new bus service could shorten commute times and spur development between Downtown and Oakland.
Past studies of the corridor have focused largely on rail projects that ultimately were deemed too expensive.
Some say the latest study -- funded with an $837,993 federal grant and $209,498 in county money -- is too costly.
"If ever there was an agency that needed to hunker down and focus on its core mission, Port Authority is it," said Eric Montarti, a senior policy analyst at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a Castle Shannon-based think tank.
Port Authority's financial woes forced it to cut service by 15 percent and lay off 180 workers this spring, and it's facing a $30 million deficit next year, Montarti said. The controversial North Shore Connector, a 1.2-mile, $523.4 million extension of the agency's light-rail system, begins service in March.
"The Port Authority exhibits a trend where they take on new projects at a detriment to existing stuff," Montarti said.
The latest study will look at options for so-called bus rapid transit service, or BRT. It mimics rail with its higher frequency of service, fewer stops and, in some cities, buses that look like trains or trolleys. But it is less costly to develop or maintain.
Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie says neither operations nor capital improvements are being sacrificed to cover study costs -- nor could any money received for the study be used to run or fix buses.
More than two dozen groups, including UPMC, three universities, the Penguins and government agencies, sent letters imploring Port Authority to look into BRT.
The PB Americas Inc. study will evaluate all BRT options.
It will examine where bus-only lanes could be built, traffic signals could be set to give BRT buses priority or buses might need to share the road with regular traffic. It will measure how each option might affect development, travel times and transit ridership. And …