Funded study would brainstorm future of Route 65

Saturday, May 26, 2018 | 2:04 PM


The Quaker Valley Council of Governments is trying to raise $150,000 to fund a study that will brainstorm ideas to bring a 32-mile stretch of Route 65 up to speed with the 21st century.

The organization, headquartered a stone's throw away from Route 65 in Emsworth, has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University's Remaking Cities Institute to get the ball rolling on the study, which has been coined the Route 65 Corridor Project.

QVCOG Executive Director Susan Hockenberry hopes the $280,000 research project will offer new insights to developers and planners on how to use “smart tech” on rural and suburban roads.

“We want to look at challenges that relate to safety, speed, air quality, traffic flow. Also, does the road deliver as much economic benefit as it could? Those are all questions we hope to tackle and why it's relevant,” she said.

The road stretches through 19 communities along the east bank of the Ohio River. Hockenberry said the portion of road to be studied starts around the McKees Rocks Bridge and ends in Rochester Borough in Beaver County.

Bringing smart tech to more rural roads is an area of study that Mobility 21, a United States Department of Transportation University Transportation Center, finds important. The center recently awarded the project a $90,000 grant.

“Recently there's been a lot of attention on what is referred to as smart tech for mobility, and how that can be applied to cities and an urban area,” said Stan Caldwell, Mobility 21's executive director.

Cities around the country are racing to advance transportation initiatives through technology. The race, in part, was started by USDOT's Smart City Challenge – a grant program meant to spur cities to “develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.”

USDOT awarded Columbus, Ohio a $40 million Smart City grant in June 2016. Pittsburgh was a finalist to receive the money that would have leveraged investment in technological research to advance transportation initiatives through technology.

This year, Pittsburgh is among a group of 22 cities that will focus on how technology and new mobility options are forcing cities to deal with issues like rights of way and the availability and use of curb space.

But the Route 65 Corridor Project will see how the so-called smart tech for mobility can be utilized in a more rural or suburban setting – an area of study that excites Caldwell.

“This project excited us because we can look at how to demonstrate smart tech in more diverse areas. Route 65 runs through very suburban areas, some rural, some industrial,” he said.

Depending on funding availability, RCI and QVCOG will partner in researching the 32-mile corridor. Part of that will include organizing public forums that will seek input from community members, Hockenberry said.

“We want to get a corridor-wide discussion,” she said. “We have lots of anecdotals, but there's no corridor-wide collection of impacts.”

She said the community input aspect of the project is why her organization is involved.

“That coordination is important from town to town, but also with state government. How are we all responding to tech changes to position the corridor and the residents who drive it every day to move forward?”

There will be four areas of study, according to a document found on QVCOG's website. The areas are multi-municipality decision making, transportation planning, economic impacts and community and urban design strategies.

One example, Hockenberry said, is zooming in on a certain intersection.

“Is it configured in a good or bad way for a nearby business? Also, there are a lot of bus riders that get off the corridor and they're crossing the road afterward. What's their experience?” she said.

Hockenberry said a schedule of community forums will be scheduled later in the year and posted on a website designated for the project.

For more information or to stay updated on the Route 65 Corridor Project, visit QVCOG's website at bit.ly/2wmMos1.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325. [email protected] or via Twitter @dillonswriting.