Pittsburgh Stories and Tips

airport downtown and beyond

The Pittsburgh International Airport is 50 miles and 75 miles, respectively, from the borders of Ohio and West Virginia. However, unless your travels take you to exotic and rural destinations, then those states will not be where you are headed. Rather, having arrived at one of America's great airports, your next stop should be downtown Pittsburgh, which is only 16 miles away.

Negotiating those 16 miles can be entertaining and inexpensive. And, given USAirway's near monopoly on flights and high fares to and from Pittsburgh, saving on airport transit almost beats driving to Cleveland to fly on Southwest.

The obsessively frugal traveler should note that walking from the airport to downtown is not an option. Modern expressways are not walker friendly and I-79 West is no exception; no footpaths, narrow berms and the occasional trigger-happy motorist. The roadway can be driven so you could rent a car and chance it. But I-79 West is also the main, well only, western artery to and from Pittsburgh. So, commuter traffic jams are the norm if you are trying to reach downtown in the morning or the airport in the evening. It also does not help that immediately upon leaving downtown you will encounter one of the city's 2000 bridges and then a major tunnel. It is a Pittsburgh phenomenon that local drivers will slow down upon entering a tunnel regardless of the amount of traffic or the speed limit. So expect delays at any time.

So what transportation options are left? Planes, trains or submarines perhaps? I think not. High speed Maglev trains whisking passengers to and from the airport is as much a dream in the "burgh" as the Pirates having a winning season. Air service to downtown? Forget it. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is a native of Western Pennsylvania and no one is going to take chances on his watch. Submarines, yes, we have one of WWII vintage docked at the Carnegie Science Center just across the Allegheny River from downtown. Unfortunately, the airport is landlocked and the cost of recommissioning, manning and arming a sub these days is prohibitive even if you can find a good used Soviet model on Ebay.

How then do you get from the airport to downtown. I take a bus. The Port Authority of Allegheny County uses a federal funds to subsidize a bus route from the airport to downtown and on the Oakland section of Pittsburgh which is the home of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. For only $2.50 each way you get the opportunity to stand next to college kids and their luggage headed home for spring break or business travelers trying to compensate for USAirways fares. These small but cozy buses run about every twenty minutes from early morning to about midnight when the last flights arrive at the airport.

Does this beat driving? Sure it does. First, the bus skips the tunnel and most commuter traffic by using a bus only road carved through hills and valleys and backyards at a cost to taxpayers of millions and millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, the busway extends for only a few but crucial miles. For the remainder of the trip you will travel regular streets and highways. But unlike most airport transit, this bus stops at IKEA. Yes, IKEA, Sweden's answer to we need a furniture store that serves funny tasting cranberries. So in addition to sharing a seat with people desperate to make their flights you also get to ride with shoppers and chairs and sofas and beds and lamps. Furniture and luggage and college students and Pittsburgh. This is an experience you can't get in West Virginia.

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