Light at the End of the Castle Shannon TOD Tunnel?

"I think were closer to making this happen than we ever were before". That is what the manager of Castle Shannon Borough said in March of 2006 in talking about the transit oriented development (TOD) planned for the Port Authority’s Castle Shannon stop. In March of 2009 the developer of the project said that "HUD has agreed to ‘fast track’ its review" of his request for public funding" for the $35 million mixed use development.

HUD must have agreed to fast track a lot of requests because the developer stated yesterday "the only money is from government programs like HUD, and there’s a long line." He could go a step further: it seems as though the only interest for placing high density development along the trolley line in the South Hills is coming from public agencies, because they are the ones handing out money for feasibility studies, and when there is "free" money there will be no shortage of takers.

So while Dormont and Mt. Lebanon continue to explore the possibility of getting development close to the stations (even though their own data shows population losses were greater in those areas of closer proximity to the stations) they should look at the living example that serves as a case study in their neighbor to the south.

While proponents of the Castle Shannon development point to jobs and activity that will be sure to locate there they have never acknowledged that the attraction to the site, should it ever come about, could come from people living in another nearby location or from jobs located in another location. It does not happen in a vacuum.

T Development: A Great Train Robbery?

After nearly a decade of planning and assembling funding (including $10 million in Federal, state, and local monies) it appears the transit oriented development at the Castle Shannon station in the South Hills could be starting. And that’s a good thing according to the developer since "these excess pieces of land can generate some tax dollars and jobs".

Talk about pumping up the benefits without looking at the costs. Consider:

  • If the annual opportunity cost of the $10 million public investment is 5% ($500,000), then the development must be assessed at $15 million at build-out in order to generate that $500k in property tax dollars to the County, Castle Shannon, and Keystone Oaks School District;
  • If the jobs (the development is supposed to have office space, retail, and restaurant(s)) are simply transfers from other locations then there is no net benefit to the County, and possibly to the borough and school district;
  • The Port Authority has to spend money to lease parking nearby in order to accommodate people who park at the lot.

Transit is supposed to generate its own demand, but we have already seen from studies on other parts of the trolley line that population loss is more pronounced in areas adjacent to the T. Sure, the site, when completed, will be shiny and attractive and there will be much fanfare. But will there be a net benefit from its undertaking?