Twin tunnels for use of trains have been completed under the Allegheny River between downtown Pittsburgh and the north side of the river where the football and baseball stadiums are located. Each of the tunnels is 0.6 of a mile long. The boring started a year ago. Laying of tracks, construction of three stations and other features will be completed by 2011.
This $500 million project nearly 100 feet below the surface of the river and 50 feet below of the river bed will accommodate a spur of the city's light rail subway system to the two sports centers formerly connected to downtown by bridges and boats.
This tunnel project was formulated and funded in part before the current national economic crisis became apparent. It recognizes the popular interest in sports and makes an accommodation to many fans for easier access to and from events. The tunnels are an investment in fan support, stimulation for downtown commuters and general commerce in Pittsburgh.
America has a history of bold projects to stimulate transportation and bolster commerce. The time and cost of the Pittsburgh tunnel project is of little note compared to the "Big Dig" project in Boston, which took 15 years from groundbreaking to dedication in 2006. It was a megaproject costing the government $22 billion for roads, tunnels, bridges and accommodations for rail and subway tracks. As part of the motivation to pursue this huge effort, some highway studies in 1990 predicted "traffic jams of 16 hours in the city of Boston by 2010." Recent reports are that traffic density has been reduced by half. One would hope that doesn't mean traffic jams will only be eight hours in duration next year.
The Transcontinental Railroad across America was completed in 1869, joining Omaha, Nebraska, Sacramento, California, and the entire nation east and west. The Gold Rush and expansionistic aspirations were motivations to go west at that time. The railroad expansion was initially supported by U.S. government bonds and land grants of government property in 1862 during Abraham Lincoln's administration.
The Panama Canal was completed in 1914, after a 10-year demonstration of American engineering and health care know-how. Ocean travel between New York City and San Francisco around South America's Cape Horn was reduced from 14,000 miles to 6,000 miles. The historic success of this project, with involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers, was made possible by the initiative of President Theodore Roosevelt.
The interstate highway system has evolved since 1956, when it was proposed by the Eisenhower administration. In 1992, the originally planned system was completed. The interstate's wide, safer roadways were a boon to the automobile and trucking industries. Because of increasing commercial airplane travel, most non-urban passenger trains were discontinued. Even so, commercial airlines have not been profitable for short flights. The right of way for freight trains, some 150 cars long, has often made Amtrak passenger schedules impossible to keep. Highways have become crowded with six-, eight- and 10-passenger vehicles containing in most situations only one person. A more cost effective, environmentally clean, reliable and safe system of travel for a growing population must be made available.
The current proposal for faster rail transportation is bold in scope. It will be essentially an all-weather improvement of travel for passengers. The construction will provide a long term industrial and employment stimulus for the economy. The train system will grow incrementally as the interstate highway did. The highway median strip might sometimes be used for the new track. The new trains will not be magnetic levitation trains, which can already attain speeds up to 300 miles per hour, and would require a different form of track. Mag Lev will be the next stage of high speed trains in 15 years or sooner.
There has been a "shovel ready" proposal for high speed trains between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati for decades. Gov. Ted Strickland has been a champion for that development, which has recently been approved.
Train service from Toledo to Morgantown, W. Va., via Cleveland, Warren, Youngstown, New Castle and Pittsburgh would be a bold move. Think what support this would provide for the football, basketball, baseball, hockey teams, merchants and tourists along the line.