Transit backers rally in Downtown Pittsburgh

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A diverse coalition of local transit advocates gathered outside the Wood Street subway station in Downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday to urge state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett to provide adequate funding for public transportation.

Nearly 40 organizations, including religious, labor and business groups, signed a letter calling for passage of "stable, long-term state funding for transportation" with an emphasis on mass transit.

"Public transit benefits everyone, not just those who ride it. By getting more cars off the streets, mass transit reduces traffic and parking congestion, air pollution and oil consumption," said the letter, prepared by the rally organizers, the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.

"We are a very diverse group of black, white, lower, upper and middle class, urban, suburban, Protestant, Catholic, Quaker, Jew, Muslim and Unitarian Universalists. We believe that a strong public transit system promotes a growing economy and a positive quality of life in Western Pennsylvania," it said.

"We expect that our Legislature will listen to this broad coalition," said group member Martha Berg.

Several attendees praised legislation introduced this week by state Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, that would raise an estimated $2.5 billion in new transportation funding by changing the way gasoline taxes are levied and increasing driver fees and fines. Mr. Rafferty has estimated that the bill would add $128 million in statewide public transit funding in the first year and $510 million by year 5.

Steve Palonis, president of Local 85, Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Port Authority workers, said it would enable the fiscally troubled agency to add transit service. Other officials, including Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Ken Zapinski, a vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said they were still analyzing the impact of the legislation on local transit.

"I'm very pleased Senator Rafferty moved forward [with the bill]," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "The whole community's behind us. To be a vibrant region we've got to have adequate transit."

Mr. Zapinski said enactment of a transportation funding bill is the top legislative priority of his organization, which represents the region's business community.

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. First Published April 18, 2013 12:45 AM


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