PennDOT supports Pittsburgh’s quest for $50M ‘Smart Cities’ grant
Most people wouldn’t see a connection between storm sewers and transportation, but Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said sewers and a host of other public concerns would be addressed if the city wins a $50 million federal transportation grant.
Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald met Monday at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and representatives of public and private institutions involved in the city’s grant application.
Peduto said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards notified him Friday that the department would contribute $11 million if the city wins a $50 million federal Smart Cities Challenge grant.
Peduto said PennDOT’s commitment increases Pittsburgh’s chances because it shows the state supports the grant application along with Allegheny County and local institutions. He said it permits the city to seek matching grants.
“We can leverage that now against other corporate, other foundation and potentially other government amounts as well, so this $50 million challenge maybe becomes $100 million,” the mayor said.
Pittsburgh is among seven cities nationwide chosen as finalists for the grant. The federal government will announce a winner in June. Pittsburgh’s final application is due on May 24.
Pittsburgh intends to use the money for programs that would improve transportation and other infrastructure across the city. Peduto wouldn’t give specific details, saying he does not want to tip off the other cities.
But he and other speakers outlined “George Jetson”-type projects that could accommodate driverless cars, traffic light systems that eliminate gridlock and vehicle applications that warn of potential collisions.
Sensors, radar and computer technology connected to traffic lights are being tested in Pittsburgh that permit vehicles to communicate with traffic lights and each other.
Grant money would permit that technology to expand and help pay for improvements, including rapid bus service to Oakland, new streets connecting neighborhoods such as the North Side that have been cut off by highway construction, and better public transportation access for residents in poor neighborhoods.
New streets would include green infrastructure to alleviate stormwater runoff, Peduto said.
He said Pittsburgh’s new economy is based on “getting people to the workplace.”
“It’s about how do we look at all modes of mobility, whether it is walking, whether it is a buggy, whether it is public transit, whether it’s a car or whether it’s a person with needs, and how are they able to go where they need to go,” Peduto said.
The mayor said he intends to create a city department next year to oversee transportation and infrastructure issues.
Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff and the city’s chief economic development officer, said Pittsburgh has a good chance to win the grant because it would include improvements for the poorest neighborhoods.
For example, Acklin said, some of the money would go to provide free WiFi service.
“It’s not just about the technology and the gadgets,” he said. “It’s about how we will use that to bridge gaps in inequity.”
Peduto said Pittsburgh intends to push ahead with transportation improvements — with or without the grant.
Foxx said the U.S. transportation department is looking at ways to funnel federal money to the six losing cities for transportation initiatives. He said his visits to the cities have allowed him to hear from grant applicants.
Pittsburgh is a city that’s “regenerating and revitalizing and trying to figure out the future,” Foxx said. “I think that the fact that Pittsburgh is a finalist in this competition is indicative of how much great work is being done here, not only to reinvent Pittsburgh but really to reinvent our economy.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].