ON THIS DAY: March 23, 2012, North Shore Connector begins service

PITTSBURGH — After nearly two decades of planning, the Port Authority’s light rail system opened a 1.2 mile extension to the North Shore on March 23, 2012. The North Shore Connector tunnels from the Gateway Subway Station, under the Allegheny River and to a pair of new stations by PNC Park and Heinz Field.

The Port Authority first began studying the project in 1994. While many asserted that an extension to Oakland would be preferred, costs were expected to be more than double that of the proposed tunnels to the North Shore.

The project cost $523.4 million, of which 80% was covered by the Federal Transit Administration.

Federal funding for the North Shore Connector was announced on Feb. 6, 2004, and construction began that fall.

Initial excavation on the two tunnels was finished by early 2009.

In 2010, Port Authority officials discovered a consultant installed a cable that wasn’t fire proofed. The Port Authority said the setback cost an addition $1.2 million, which was paid for from the project’s contingency fund.

Construction took five and half years to complete. Dignitaries and politicians enjoyed the first trips to North Side Station and Allegheny Station. Though the first public trips under the Allegheny River were after the “soft opening” on Friday on March 23, regular service did not begin until Sunday, March 25, 2012.

The North Shore Connector has been included in the Port Authority’s Free Fare Zone since its debut.

The formerly controversial project has become more appreciated as development on the North Shore, particularly between PNC Park and Heinz Field, has added numerous offices, restaurants and bars. The North Shore Connector also provides service to the Carnegie Science Center, Rivers Casino and the Allegheny Campus of the Community College of Allegheny County.