In Pittsburgh, House Transportation Committee hears testimony on public transit

In Pittsburgh, House Transportation Committee hears testimony on public transit

Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell/Tuesday, August 21, 2018/Categories: News and Views, Pittsburgh

The House Transportation Committee met at the John Heinz History center to hear about the state of transportation in Western Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon. 

Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia), chairman of the committee, said that the committee's goal was to get to different parts of the commonwealth to gain perspective on the state of mass transportation and understand what the industry needs the most. 

The committee heard testimony from Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s executive for District 11; Brad Heigel, the chief engineer for Southern Beltway project; and Katharine Kelleman, the CEO for Port Authority. As the hearing unfolded and testifiers discussed their experiences along with committee members who raised issues facing their communities it became clear that what one of the things parties involved were most interested in was continued investment in public transportation.

Kelleman testified that a saving grace for the authority has been Act 89, a piece of legislation enacted in 2013 that provides over $2 billion in funding over the course of five years. Kelleman said the authority's service would suffer without the funding.

“Act 89 has allowed us to keep functioning [at the] current level,” she told the committee. “Were it to ever suddenly disappear we’d be looking at a reduction in service.”

She told the committee that through surveys and initiatives the Port Authority is working to improve its service, but she feels there’s more to be done.  One of the areas Kelleman would like to see improved for Port Authority is foresight. 

“We historically just don’t have a long term vision of where of where we were going,” Kelleman admitted. “And if you don’t know where you’re going, how do you get there, right?”

When speaking of the future, another topic of interest for committee members was the Bus Rapid Transit plan. Ten years in the works, due to the cost and the possible reductions in service the project itself has been controversial. Rep. Austin Davis (D-Allegheny) said he feels that after discussions with the Port Authority the plans are now in a place where they won’t cause more harm than good to residents in his district. However, he said, residents in Monongahela Valley continue to suffer from limited access to public transportation. 

“The Mon Valley is being particularly hurt by the lack of service and the lack of infrastructure,” he said. “It’s just very difficult to get to and from there.”

He added that wants to see more investment in the transit system and see the investment go beyond the city to keep Pittsburgh moving forward. 

Davis wasn’t alone in worrying about his constituents’ access to public transit. Rep. Hal English (R-Allegheny) lamented that North Hills, a sizable part of his district, has seen significant service reduction through the years. He wondered if there were any plans in place to increase access in the future.

Kelleman said there wasn’t yet and that this was one of the downsides of the previously mentioned lack of long term planning. She expressed, however, that the authority hopes to remedy the situation by bringing on a chief development officer in September.

During the meeting Taylor voiced his desire to see more regulations placed on self-driving cars and wished that it had been done a long time ago.

“In Philadelphia, and this is just my opinion, we just let them do whatever they want to do,” he said.

After the meeting Taylor added that he hopes to see legislation enacted regarding self-driving cars, but with so little time left in the year as well as his tenure as a state representative - he is not running for reelection - he wasn’t sure if that would happen. 

At the moment, he said, legislators are following the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s lead. 

Ultimately, Taylor said the purpose of the meeting is to help members gain a better understanding of issues with regard to mass transit. After the hearing he feels his fellow legislators now better understand the importance of investing in public transportation.

“We wanted to get a variety of information for members and the committee at large. We wanted to establish that Act 89 was a very important law that provided the necessary funding to sustain service and keep it moving and I think that the members really needed to hear that.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Pittsburgh. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at