Casino developer Barden gets an earful about traffic
Casino developer Barden gets an earful about traffic
Steelers call North Shore casino 'potential disaster'
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
By Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If anyone knows traffic and the problems it can create, it's the Steelers.
That's why there may have been some irony yesterday when officials of the football team complained to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission about the potential for traffic problems generated on the North Shore by PITG Gaming's proposed slots casino.
The Steelers, Pirates and Carnegie Science Center were among the casino's neighbors who raised concerns about traffic at a public hearing on developer Don Barden's master plan for the $430 million Majestic Star casino. It will be built on 13 acres along the North Shore between the science center and West End Bridge.
The master plan is a general concept for the project and once it is approved the developer will move ahead with more specific details. The commission urged Mr. Barden to work with neighbors on traffic concerns and try to reach consensus before the project returns to the commission May 1.
Mark Hart, director of business for the Steelers, said the team is concerned that Mr. Barden doesn't "recognize the urgency and potential disaster" that could occur on the North Shore if the casino doesn't handle traffic correctly. He acknowledged that on Steelers game days, traffic is "very difficult to manage, even at its best" and noted the team closes off some streets and reverses traffic on others to accommodate it.
"I would say the North Shore works for events, but it barely works," Mr. Hart said. "[Traffic] is a concern for everyone who is on the site and everyone who uses the site."
He noted that the casino's estimate of 10 million visitors a year is about three times the number who attend sporting events. The casino could cause "a total mess" if it doesn't properly deal with traffic, he said.
Barry Ford of Continental Development, which has led the construction of two office buildings and has several other projects pending on land between Heinz Field and PNC Park, concurred.
"If we don't get this traffic and parking right, this project I'm working on will fall apart," he said. "It's critical for all of us."
Director Joanna Haas said the science center has been generally supportive of the casino project but officials haven't seen updated traffic plans for more than a year. The center uses roads for school buses and other groups that the casino also plans to use for primary access.
"We don't want to see casino traffic put us out of business," she said.
John DeSantis, former president of the Allegheny West Civic Council, has long been a critic of the Steelers because of problems that rowdy fans cause in his neighborhood on game days. He expressed confidence that development of the casino will help address those concerns.
"I throw the challenge to [the Steelers] to be as committed to this" attempt to fix traffic problems as they were to building a new stadium, Mr. DeSantis said. "They will finally address their concerns. Our biggest problem, Heinz Field, finally will be addressed."
Before the neighbors criticized traffic plans, Mr. Barden and his development team said its location near the West End Bridge mitigated many potential traffic concerns. In fact, he said he would make the casino's 3,800-space parking garage available for Steelers fans on game days.
He said primary access to the site will be from the bridge by way of Reedsdale Street.
After hearing the concerns, Mr. Barden said he was willing to work with neighbors and a new design task force set up by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.
He said he already has meetings scheduled with the Steelers and science center.
"We can't solve problems that were here before we got here," Mr. Barden said. "We want to do our share and we want to cooperate, but we can't resolve all of the problems.
"We are building enough parking to serve our business. Some of the stakeholders have to do the same for themselves."
After the meeting, Mr. Barden was reluctant to answer questions about traffic concerns. He said he doesn't expect those concerns to hold up his ambitious schedule to open the casino next summer.
"Overall, at the end of the day, we'll work it out," he said. "It's a typical planning process."
Well I'm sure the tailgaters will be up in arms. My concern is the development between the stadiums, I hope the casino doesn't screw it up.
Steelers fear casino traffic on game days!
Laughed at this story when I readit. I feared this 10 years ago!
Steelers fear casino traffic on game days
Monday, April 23, 2007
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers want to see a more detailed study of the traffic impact of the proposed Majestic Star casino, particularly as it relates to game days and other big events on the North Shore.
Steelers President Art Rooney said today the study done by PITG Gaming LLC, the casino operator, did not analyze the impact the slots palace would have on game day traffic at Heinz Field or PNC Park. He viewed that as a serious flaw, given the difficulties the Steelers experience moving traffic during home games.
During a meeting with the Post-Gazette editorial board, Mr. Rooney said the Steelers would object to the approval of the casino master plan by the city planning commission until the issue had been addressed. The planning commission is scheduled to vote on the master plan May 1.
"There's a whole different picture on the North Shore that needs to be looked at," he said.
Mr. Rooney also said there's a need to analyze the impact the casino will have on the regional highway system, including ramps and bridges leading to the West End and the North Shore. He said the Majestic Star study was more localized and did not look at the interstate system.
"We are prepared to go and object to an approval [by the planning commission] at this point," he said. "We don't think it should be approved without a much more thorough study of the traffic and, obviously, an analysis of what it's going to take to fix the problem."
He estimated that it could cost "tens of millions of dollars" to make the improvements necessary to mitigate the impact. The Steelers also believe there's a need to form a working group similar to one convened before Heinz Field and PNC Park opened to address traffic issues. Handling that through the 39-member gaming implementation task force formed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato could be unwieldly, he said, although he added it is conceivable that a subcommittee could address such issues.
Mr. Rooney said the Steelers are willing to work with businessman Don Barden, who heads PITG Gaming, to resolve traffic-related issues. The team has hired its own consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to assist on traffic-related issues.
While the mix of traffic "might be a workable situation" when Steeler games start at 1 p.m. Sunday, Mr. Rooney said that is becoming less common. The Steelers will play five night home games this year, two during the preseason and three during the regular season. He said he was also concerned about the impact on Saturday Pitt games.
PITG Gaming spokesman Bob Oltmanns said the casino's traffic study did take into account the impact on the regional highway system, including the West End Bridge. He wasn't sure whether it analyzed game day traffic. However, he pointed out that Mr. Barden has committed to making about $10 million in improvements to intersections and roads near the casino.
He added he didn't hear anything from Mr. Rooney's remarks "that already hasn't been discussed in great detail before the gaming control board. We have acknowledged the need for some highway and roadway improvements that Mr. Barden has since day one been willing to pay for at no cost to taxpayers," he said.
I agree with this guy on another board:
The Steelers have their shorts in a bunch because they wanted the land surrounding Heinz and PNC Park to be developed as they saw fit.
After nothing happened for 5 years someone has stepped up and proposed how the land should be used. The Steelers missed their lengthy chance to be players in Northside development but have lost that chance and need to deal with it.
Given the hours I would spend in gridlocked parking lots after games at TRS, the Steelers purported concerns about traffic congestion are laughable. They play in a taxpayer funded facility and will need to grin and bear it as others control how the slots palace (casinos involve a lot more glitz and gambling) next to that facility operates.
He's exactly right.