May 25, 1982: The Steel Plaza subway station, shot from the 17th floor of the William Penn. (Andy Starnes/The Pittsburgh Press)
Feb. 24, 1982: Soils engineer David Druss measures the subway trench against the foundation of the old Wabash Railroad Terminal in Gateway Center. (Bill Levis/Post-Gazette)
April 12, 1982: Perched precariously over a trench, a backhoe digs during subway construction in Gateway Center. (Robert J. Pavuchak/The Pittsburgh Press)
June 2, 1982: The subway tunnel looking toward Gateway No. 4. (Robert J. Pavuchak/The Pittsburgh Press)
Sept. 27, 1982: Liberty Avenue became an interesting street to cross in front of the Equibank Building during subway construction. (Robert J. Pavuchak/The Pittsburgh Press)
August 1982: The subway’s “Y” track layout begins to take shape at the Steel Plaza. (Tony Kaminski/The Pittsburgh Press)
Oct. 1, 1982: Chaos in the streets in front of Wood Street station (in the background) during excavation. (Bill Levis/Post-Gazette)
Oct. 1, 1982: “One big hole” at 6th Avenue during the subway dig, read the caption on this photo. (James Klingensmith/Post-Gazette)
Nov. 10, 1982: Michael Celdender prepares concrete forms for the subway tunnel beneath Stanwix Street. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette)
Dec. 23, 1982: Cement mason Lou Darnley checks reinforced rods before concrete walls are poured at the 6th Street station. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette)
Dec. 23, 1982: Excavation work was nearly finished on the tunnel under Liberty and Sixth avenues during Christmas week as workers smoothed concrete. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette)
Jan. 14, 1983: The subway turnaround in Gateway Center can be seen a few months before it was covered again. (Ross A. Catanza/The Pittsburgh Press)
April 25, 1983: Subway construction at Liberty and Stanwix where the subway turnaround was located. (James Klingensmith/Post-Gazette)
June 15, 1983: With the tunnel progressing, workers began to backfill along Sixth Avenue. (Albert M. Herrmann Jr./The Pittsburgh Press)
June 17, 1983: A view of the Steel Plaza station, Mellon Building and Allegheny County Jail. (Tony Kaminski/The Pittsburgh Press)
April 26, 1984: “Before” at the Steel Plaza station. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette)
May 8, 1985: “After” at the Steel Plaza station. (Joyce Mendelsohn/Post-Gazette)
June 21, 1985: The completed Gateway Center station. (Tony Tye/Post-Gazette)
July 7, 1985: A trolly car crosses the new bridge over the Monongahela River from Downtown to the South Side. (Bill Wade/The Pittsburgh Press)
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.