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By way of background, Norfolk Southern and PennDOT have been holding closed meetings only for “consulting parties” to determine the potential effects of the Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Project on historic properties, and whether an agreement can be reached on mitigation pursuant to the Pennsylvania History Code. These meetings are overseen by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO.) Because of the lack of transparency, we are sharing an abbreviated version of the most recent “Comments” submitted by Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh (RP3) to the 3rd Merchant Street Bridge Meeting:


In connection with the “Merchant Street Bridge, Determination of Effects Report and Consulting Party Meeting #3 Notes,” the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) issued a letter on April 30 determining that Norfolk Southern must provide an analysis of direct and indirect visual, emissions, and noise impacts on Allegheny Commons in connection with the replacement of the Merchant St Bridge, “and if necessary, revise the APE.” (Area of Potential Effect)
On October 20 they completely reversed their earlier determination and again reaffirmed that ruling of no direct or indirect impact by email on November 30. No facts or analysis for this 180-degree change in direction and outcome were provided. Even though neighbors have reported that Norfolk Southern finished testing all of these types of impacts spring of 2019 after placing monitors in their yards, PA SHPO determined that a review needs to wait until this environmental information is made available after the Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Project commences. This would be a review that would then not include the Merchant Street Bridge.
First, it is incumbent on our elected representatives to thoroughly investigate the pressure exerted by PennDOT and Norfolk Southern that caused PA SHPO to do a 180-degree about-face from their April 30 ruling.
Additionally, PA SHPO now explicitly agrees with PennDOT and Norfolk Southern‘s assertion that the Merchant St Bridge is not part of the Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Project (PVCP). Again, no analysis or explanation is provided. That the PA SHPO openly and effortlessly accepts these claims at face value without accountability is stunning.
The current purposely confused status of these pending issues all stem from PennDOT/Norfolk Southern’s initial alternate reality claim that the Merchant St Bridge is not part of the PVCP. That declaration was first made last December at the first Consulting Party meeting. The assertion was a purposeful strategy intended to isolate, segregate and minimize impacts on areas of potential effect relating to Allegheny Commons. Everything that has occurred since then has just been perpetuating that error.
There are, however, the following real-world facts which amply demonstrate that Merchant St Bridge is a part of the Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Project and that its replacement has a significant impact on the historic Commons and the Environment — all of which are well known to both PennDOT and Norfolk Southern, and which have never yet been considered by PA SHPO:

  1. The 3/19/2018 "Norfolk Southern Railroad Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance NEPA Scoping Meeting Notes" includes Merchant Street Bridge as part of the PVCP-see page 4;


  1. The May 29, 2018 "Norfolk Southern Vertical Clearance Project Public Open House Invitation" lists the Merchant Street Bridge as part of the PVCP;


  1. The "Information Gathering and Project Overview Open House Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Projects Comment Form" for the June 26, 2018 “Open House” placard meeting specifically lists the Merchant Street Bridge as one of “the nine project locations...” on page 2;


  1. The "Norfolk Southern Railway Company Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Projects - Project Purpose and Need Statements" dated August, 2018 lists the Merchant Street Bridge as part of the Project on page 12;


  1. In response to Senator Wayne Fontana’s inquiry about PVCP financing, PennDOT provided "Project Description and Cost Share" showing a Merchant Street Bridge replacement cost of $7,800,000- using the same funding source as the other PVCP bridges. See page 2;


  1. The JMT Consultant’s Report (hired by PennDOT) entitled "Norfolk Southern Vertical Clearance Project Clearance Improvement Alternatives Evaluation" includes the Merchant Street Bridge. The “Effects Analysis Issues Score” grid for that bridge- under the design currently under consideration, shows that the Merchant St Bridge replacement resulted in a 3 red (or a high) for its impact in twelve categories. It also received scores of 2 yellow (medium) impact on the Historic District, Air Quality, Noise Pollution and Socioeconomic Environmental categories.  


  1. The Justice & Sustainability Associates (JSA) Consultant (hired by PennDOT) slide entitled the "Pittsburgh Vertical Clearance Project Fact Sheet" includes the Merchant Street Bridge and lists as “Four Main Areas of Concern: Noise Pollution, Vibration, and Running Double Stack Trains Next to Oil Trains.”

The applicable statute that both PennDOT and PA SHPO are required to follow states as follows:
“c) Full consideration of historic properties includes consideration of all kinds of effects on those properties: direct effects, indirect or secondary effects, and cumulative effects. Effects may be visual, audible, or atmospheric. Beyond the effects from physical alteration of the resource, itself, effects on historic properties may result from changes in such things as local or regional traffic patterns, land use, and living patterns.”
It is inexplicable that PA SHPO can come to the conclusion that the Merchant Street Bridge replacement has absolutely no direct or indirect impact on the Commons when they have not yet seen any of the environmental data in Norfolk Southern’s possession.
The machinations that are occurring in the instant case demonstrate why taxpayer/voters have little faith in our agencies or their processes.  Please share your thoughts with your elected representatives.

Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh
Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh
Copyright © 2020 Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh (RP3), All rights reserved.

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