State facing transportation crisis

Group: Nightmare ahead for roads, bridges, transit

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Civic and business leaders say they are alarmed by the specter of record-breaking public transit cuts, highways jammed with more cars and delays in funding key road and bridge projects.

They want citizens to be worried, too.

On Wednesday they launched a campaign and website to raise awareness about the possible impacts of the state's transportation funding crisis.

"Pennsylvania is staring point blank at one of the most daunting funding crises in its history," said Mike Edwards, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which is leading the campaign.

"The general public has limited knowledge about the severity of this transportation funding crisis and the effect it will have on transportation as we know it in Pittsburgh and across our state," he said.

The campaign will seek to involve citizens through the new website, keepPGHmoving.com, which will provide information and help citizens contact state legislators.

The federal government's rejection of Pennsylvania's plan to make Interstate 80 a toll road created a $472 million annual gap in the state's transportation financing, which will cause cuts to road and bridge projects and public transit.

It has contributed to a $47 million budget deficit at the Port Authority, which is planning the deepest service cuts in its history in March.

The cuts will push an estimated 5,200 additional cars onto highways and make Downtown parking harder to find, Mr. Edwards said.

"Employers relying on workers who use public transit may lose a significant number of employees as a result and find it difficult to hire new staff. These same employers may look outside Downtown for a better business environment in which to operate, causing downward pressure on lease rates, declining property values and decreased property taxes paid to the city of Pittsburgh," he said.

Eighty-four road and bridge projects in the region will go unfunded because of the state cutbacks, Mr. Edwards said.

"Everyone who uses roads, bridges, highways and public transit will be affected by this budget deficit," he said. "The goal [of the campaign] is to encourage people to become part of the transit funding solution by getting involved."

Several groups participated in a news conference at the Wood Street station to launch the campaign, including UPMC, Eat'n Park restaurants, Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Service Employees International Union, Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania, VisitPittsburgh, Sustainable Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Asked at the conference how the Legislature should raise the money to fund transportation, Mr. Edwards demurred.

"That's a really hard question," he said. "That's what we elect our officials to figure out."

Sean Logan, a former state senator who now serves as UPMC vice president of community relations, said lawmakers and Gov.-elect Tom Corbett "are keenly aware of the issue." But those affected by the looming transit cuts "need to get engaged and call their legislators," he said.

Mr. Corbett, who announced his transition team on Wednesday in Harrisburg, acknowledged the funding gap but did not offer any plan to deal with it.

He said he would not resurrect the I-80 toll proposal and is opposed to ideas floated by his predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell -- increasing the gasoline tax and raising license and registration fees.

Barbara McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, said the abundance of orange construction barrels on the roads this year might cause some to question whether there is a funding shortage.

"We're about to not see those orange barrels and cones," she said.

Lack of good roads, bridges and public transit could jeopardize the region's successful transition from heavy manufacturing to a more diversified economy, she said.


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit "The Roundabout," the Post-Gazette's transportation blog, at post-gazette.com. Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes contributed.


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