With all eyes on Biden in Pittsburgh, 13 local experts diagnose the region’s biggest infrastructure needs

by Oliver Morrison

President Joe Biden traveled to Pittsburgh Wednesday to make his case for a sweeping infrastructure investment across the country. Even before he arrived, jockeying for how to spend the money in Pittsburgh was underway. Several local representatives, including state Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee, wrote a letter promoting an extension of the Martin Luther King East Busway and the last leg of the Mon-Fayette Expressway. 

At one of Biden’s campaign stops in Pittsburgh, Biden looked directly at Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and a handful of other politicians and told them he would be back because Pittsburgh was so important to the country. “Less than 100 days and here he is making this major major speech in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s a big supporter of our building trades and infrastructure and putting people to work.”

The details in the plan Biden announced on Wednesday afternoon will likely form a template for the $2 trillion infrastructure bill. But Congress will make changes as it gathers support. This process can often lead to the inclusion of a hodge-podge of individual projects promoted by special interests. 

And there’s not enough money to go around. PennDOT alone has $15 billion in need every year but less than $7 billion in revenue, according to Vincent Valdes, the executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission. And that was before a 15% drop in commuters due to the COVID-19 pandemic cut gas tax revenues by $500 million.

PublicSource talked to 13 local experts, academics, politicians and nonprofit leaders to ask: What are the most pressing infrastructure needs for the Pittsburgh region?  

Kent Harries, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, said, “You could ask that question to 20 experts and get 50 different answers. If I own a hammer, I’m going to say nails.”

The answers were edited and condensed for clarity and brevity from phone interviews, except where noted.

Joylette Portlock, executive director at Sustainable Pittsburgh. (Photo by Anna Brewer/PublicSource)

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With all eyes on Biden in Pittsburgh, 13 local experts diagnose the region’s biggest infrastructure needs

 

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