PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Take a drive through the Wabash Tunnel and more often than not you’ll have it all to yourself.
The tunnel that was supposed to convey tens of thousands of cars in and out of the city every day barely scratches 600 vehicles and can be a lonely place even in peak times.
The feds, the state and the Port Authority spent $34 million to convert an old rail tunnel into a much-needed entry into downtown.
Unfortunately, it was only part of the plan which included a bridge into downtown that was never funded and never built.
“Well, it’s a tunnel to Carson Street,” Port Authority Spokesman Jim Ritchie said.
To make matters worse, the tunnel is high occupancy and reverse flow – one way into town in the morning and one way out at night.
Continuing to operate it that way is a yearly drain on the Port Authority’s budget and while PAT has reduced those operational costs from $400,000 to $200,000 a year, it would like to eliminate those costs entirely.
“It would make sense to make changes to the facility in one way or another to get greater use out of it, but unfortunately, the funding restrictions that are applied to that facility limit us to what we have today,” Ritchie explained.
If the Port Authority changes the way it operates the tunnel, the federal government will demand its money back, something State Auditor General Jack Wagner calls ridiculous.
“I hear that message but we are living in tough economic times and maybe it’s time for the feds to bend also,” he said. “Consequently let’s put this public asset to better use.”
Wagner says the tunnel should be opened up for everyone while Port Authority pursues funding for a bridge.
Port Authority leadership seems inclined to cut their losses and endure failure.
“Something didn’t happen in this project and this is what we’re left with today and so we’re doing the best we can,” Ritchie said.