Getting to Heinz Field for Steelers' games and other events will get a whole lot easier when the North Shore Connector officially opens on Sunday, March 25, extending the Port Authority's light rail service to the new Allegheny Station, just steps from Heinz Field's Gate C entrance.
The North Shore Connector opening event took place on Friday, with Steelers' President Art Rooney II on hand to kick things off, along with Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and other dignitaries and business leaders.
"We are excited about the opening of the North Shore Connector. It has been a long time coming and it is great that we now have light rail service, again, on the North Shore," said Rooney. "The North Shore Connector is going to provide our fans easy access to Heinz Field on game days and make for a better experience overall."
The 1.2 mile route extends T service from downtown Pittsburgh, under the Allegheny River, to an underground station near PNC Park and then to the elevated Allegheny Station.
"Fans will have the opportunity to park in one of the many downtown lots, or in the South Hills, and take the rail service to the games," added Rooney. "The North Shore has a ton to offer throughout the week, not just on game days. The area has continued to expand with the addition of Stage AE and the restaurants over the past several years, with more to come. I am glad the Steelers are able to assist in helping make the North Shore Connector a success."
One of the major benefits for riders using the connector departing from Downtown Pittsburgh stations only to the North Shore and back to Downtown, is that service will be free as the Allegheny Station is being subsidized by the Steelers and Rivers Casino for three years, while the North Side Station is subsidized by The Stadium Authority of the City of Pittsburgh.
"I don't expect in this economy people to give anything away for free, but it shows the class of a team like the Steelers to try and help people," said Dan Kipnes, who travels to Steelers games from Wantagh, N.Y., with his family, staying in a downtown hotel and previously walking to Heinz Field. "I think it's nice the team says to its fans we want to do something to make it easier for you to get to the games. It shows the class of the organization and how much their fans mean to them. They didn't have to do it, but they wanted to help the fans and the city."
Ridership from Allegheny Station is expected to peak following Steelers games, and Port Authority has a plan in place to handle that, including adding extra cars when events are taking place.
Under ideal operating conditions the T can carry the estimated 8,000 game day riders who will be using the light rail service from Allegheny and/or the North Side Station using 24 two-car trains in just 94 minutes, clearing the majority of the expected game day riders in just over an hour and a half. Port Authority estimates that 80 percent of those riders, 6,400 people, will board rail service at Allegheny Station, with the other 20 percent boarding at the North Side Station.
While the vast majority of game day riders, an estimated 70 percent, are expected to use the service to and from Downtown Pittsburgh, the T also extends to Pittsburgh's South Hills.
For Steelers fan Sharon Haney, who attends every home game, being able to head directly from Castle Shannon to Heinz Field is ideal.
"This is going to be beyond wonderful, especially when the weather is bad and you have to walk through the cold and the snow from town to Heinz Field," said Haney. "When I get on in the South Hills everyone is dressed in their Steelers gear heading to the game, so to be able to go all the way to Heinz Field and it's one stop and that stop is at the game is great. It's going to make this season so much nicer for me."
The North Shore Connector will benefit residents and visitors on more than just game days, as patrons of the Rivers Casino, Carnegie Science Center and other North Shore destinations can take advantage of it on a daily basis.
It will also help those attending concerts at Heinz Field, including this summer's Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw concert, as well as the Steelers Fan Blitz at Heinz Field on Saturday, April 28.
And for those using it on Steelers' game days, they can arrive early and enjoy the pregame festivities including the Stage AE tailgate before every home game, Steelers Experience activities on Art Rooney Avenue, or the entertainment inside Heinz Field as soon as gates open.
"It's great the city is doing something to help people commute," said Kipnes. "It's nice to get the fans together, commute with each other as it brings everybody together. It makes it much more convenient for people to get to the games. I think it's a great thing. As a fan to be able to commute over with other fans and get that community feeling as you are going to the game, the preparation for it, it's exciting and a great way to get back and forth from downtown."