Opened in December 1977 as the PATway South, the first busway in Pittsburgh and in the United States serves downtown, Station Square, and the neighborhoods of the South Hills. It is a bypass of the Liberty Bridge and Tunnel and the traffic that both cause on PA 51/Saw Mill Run Boulevard. Most bus routes through the South Hills will travel the busway into the city. It carries 16 express and local route buses, carrying 13,000 passengers daily or nearly 4 million annually. While others were built with the idea of conversion to a LRT right-of-way, this one shares part of its with the subway known as The "T." The dual-use tunnel through Mount Washington, which it used exclusively until 1985 when the subway opened.
Planned as an "early action" project by the Port Authority after it acquired Pittsburgh Railways in 1964, the South PATway as it was known was to have been built as part of the cancelled Saw Mill Run Expressway.
Not two months after it opened and the first accident took place on the South Busway. On February 10, 1978, a bus collided with a trolley at the South Hills Junction, where both the busway and subway line share a right-of-way. The accident claimed the life of four including the PAT bus driver. He would be the only driver to die in an accident in the Port Authority's history until 1996 when one would claim the life of a driver on the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.
That would not be the last to occur at the South Hills Junction. On May 13, 1997 at 12: 30 PM, a Mid-Mon Valley Transit bus collided with a Port Authority trolley at the station. The impact from the crash exploded the bus' windshield and created dents to both the bus and trolley. The driver of the bus, Bernard Bulna, was extracated after his leg was pinned in the accident and was taken to Allegheny General Hospital but released soon afterwards. After the wreckage was cleared, it became a battle of "they said/we said" between the Port Authority and Mid-Mon Valley Transit. MMVT stood by their driver's story that he had the right-of way. "Our operator said he had the green signal," said Aldo Nones, president of 88 Transit. He continued, "He said he saw the trolley. It was stopped, but he kept watching it. Next thing he knew, it was coming at him."
Operator of the trolley Paul Schmidt, a PAT operator for 21 years, told police he followed procedures leading up to the accident. He said that he stopped for a red light, waited for it to turn green, but saw the MMVT bus coming at his trolley and pulled away from the light. PAT spokeswoman Judi McNeil countered the MMVT accusations saying, "When he noticed the inbound bus was not coming to a stop, he immediately applied the emergency brakes." Both operators were given drug and alcohol tests as required by Federal law.
PAT could have opted to retrain drivers on using the busway, which would have affected MMVT's 30 inbound and outbound routes which makes it the largest user of the South Busway. A decision would have also affected DeBolt-Somerset Bus Company and Washington County Transit who both make two trips daily. Port Authority employees, city and local police, and county sheriff deputies would not have been affected by this decision.
No one likes to hear the word "construction" especially when it is indirect activity. I am sure the riders of the busway felt that way in June 2000 when a one-mile section was closed due to reconstruction of the Overbrook line of the T. The busway was included so that the narrow right-of-way on the hillside overlooking PA 51 could be improved. Due to the closure, 11 Port Authority routes and Mid-Mon Valley Transit buses were dumped onto the already crowded and congested PA 51/Saw Mill Run Boulevard. What was to have taken 18 months to complete took 25, and finally at the end of July 2002 buses were again rolling down the South Busway.
South Busway Map
|PA 51 in Overbrook|
|PA 837 in Pittsburgh|
412-255-1350 (Port Authority Police)