The Port Authority of Allegheny County, no longer struggling to triage its budget since the state passed transportation funding through Act 89 last year, is taking advantage of the stability and initiating a new conversation about public transit.
“How do we take what we have today and move toward something we all want? Think ahead 10 or 20 years,” says Port Authority Communications Director Jim Ritchie. “Now’s the time to look at it closely, to look at our financing structure and look at what can be done with what we have.”
The Port Authority will start that conversation this week as it hosts a panel commissioned by the Urban Land Institute, a D.C.-based nonprofit, which will interview elected officials, community leaders, foundation representatives and city planners in order to assess the needs of and make recommendations for the future of the region’s public transit system.
The panel, which the ULI is providing at the Port Authority’s request, is made up of nine transit, finance, planning and real estate experts from across the country and chaired by Dave Leininger, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Dallas Area Rapid Transit. They will interview about 80 people throughout the week at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, before issuing their recommendations on Friday with a written report to follow soon after.
In addition to seeking input from select local leaders, the ULI panel and the Port Authority have set up a community engagement website to solicit opinions on various transportation topics from citizens and riders. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean and several Port Authority board members will also take part in the online forum, which will remain active at least through June 13.
“A lot of people are really engaged in this,” Ritchie says. “They want to see [transit’s] image restored because it’s gone through such a horrible time for so many years.”