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Transportation shortfall targeted by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership

Tom Fontaine

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership wants to send state legislators a message.

Actually, thousands of them.

The nonprofit created a website, keepPGHmoving.com, aimed at drawing attention to a shortfall in state transportation funding. Visitors can create messages or choose from one of more than dozen prepared, then enter their ZIP codes and have their pleas for money sent to legislators. Messages can be posted to Facebook and Twitter.

“The goal is to encourage people to become part of the transportation funding solution by getting involved now. We hope this initiative will stimulate legislative action in Harrisburg,” said partnership President and CEO Mike Edwards.

The federal government’s decision to block tolls on Interstate 80 will mean $472 million less in annual funding for roads, bridges and transit agencies across the state. Edwards said he wants legislators to find a way to generate enough money annually to close that gap, if not more.

Yet, how?

“That’s a really hard question. It’s up to our legislators to find out,” Edwards said.

An 11th-hour proposal from outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell would have imposed taxes on oil company profits and raised vehicle registration and license fees to generate $1 billion for transportation. State leaders have said no action will be taken on transportation funding until Gov.-elect Tom Corbett takes office. Corbett has vowed not to raise taxes.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County expected $27 million from I-80 tolls. Without that money, its anticipated budget deficit is $47 million. The authority plans to vote in two weeks on a proposal to cut service by 35 percent, raise fares and lay off more than 500 workers.

Edwards said the impact of such moves would be dire, putting more vehicles on roads, making parking more scarce and jobs for many harder to get to. Employers might think twice about moving here, he said.

Kevin Joyce, past president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association and owner of The Carlton restaurant Downtown, is optimistic a solution is on the horizon, but said the authority needs to cut costs to avoid annual budget-deficit drama. If not, cuts would make it “less convenient for restaurant employees, just like all professions.”

Former state Sen. Sean Logan, vice president of community relations at UPMC, said transit cuts would hurt patients and employees alike. He thinks the e-mail campaign could work, if people get personal. “Ninety-percent of legislators read the personal stories (of hardships). It resonates with them,” he said.


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