In March 1953, the lack of a subway in Pittsburgh was “described as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 headache.” ((“Sick Transit Gloria-But No Subway!” by Edwin Beachler, The Pittsburgh Press, March 22, 1953.))
“For a half century, Pittsburgh has been talking about building a subway,” Edwin Beachler wrote in The Pittsburgh Press.
The city waited another quarter century more to see the T become a reality.
Back in the 1950s, there were hopes of having multiple lines running in and out of the city — yes, even to Oakland and beyond.
That never happened, but the 1.1 miles of Port Authority track that was eventually buried under Downtown cost $480 million in the early 1980s (about $1.3 billion today). The current Downtown-South Hills route was approved in September 1978, and digging began three years later.
City and county officials used a 30-foot-long shovel at the groundbreaking.
Even larger — though far more effective — tools were used to do the real excavating. Bulldozers worked an average of 35 feet deep, and as low as 45 feet. Drillers had to work around Pittsburgh’s “fourth river,” technically called an alluvial aquifer, water from which feeds the Point State Park fountain and many Downtown air conditioning systems.
As for the technical side, these details were made public in June 1980 ((“Subway Plan Taps ‘Fourth River'” by Joe Grata, The Pittsburgh Press, June 9, 1980.)):
- The subway tunnel was dug 35 feet wide and 22 feet high, with its ceiling 10 feet below street level.
- Crews made its concrete base 3 feet thick, the roof 2 feet thick and the sides 1 1/2 feet thick.
A mere five years later, construction concluded. The first rides under Downtown started July 8, 1985. Trolley lines in the Golden Triangle began shutting down shortly thereafter.