Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is halfway through his second term in office. 90.5 WESA's Kevin Gavin sat down with Fitzgerald to discuss his goals for the county in 2018.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
KEVIN GAVIN: Let's start with what you think were the major developments during 2017 before we start talking about the new year.
RICH FITZGERALD: Well, I think first of all we've seen again continued growth in the county and in the region. We've seen a lot of new housing come on new construction, both commercial and residential. We've seen the airport continue to grow. The airport getting "airport of the year." This year the first domestic national U.S. airport to win that distinction. We've continued to add more service European service, for example, domestic service going up to 72 cities that you could get to. It was just a few years ago you could only go to 37 cities directly. The fact that we've got all these autonomous vehicle companies research and development happening here is a lot of good a very good lot of good energy coming on for 2018.
GAVIN: How big of an issue county-wide is affordable housing and what steps during this year have you made toward addressing the need?
FITZGERALD: It's part of a kind of a national trend towards a lot of folks at the high end of income and wealth and folks being left behind, housing being one aspect of it income job skills being another aspect of it. So one of the policies we put in place was on subsidies for development that we're not interested in putting subsidies forward unless the developer provides a certain percentage of affordable housing and that's something that we've worked with other municipalities, including the city of Pittsburgh, on.
GAVIN: You're talking about the inner ring suburbs, are there any of that you're concerned about?
FITZGERALD: The good news is these areas now become desirable. But I look at a lot of the inner ring suburbs and I think of Millvale and Sharpsburg, down in the Mon Valley you see Homestead and Munhall are starting to take off again. Because of all the innovation and technology and robotics that are occurring young people moving [are] putting pressure on the housing market. We're going to continue to see folks move into those inner ring suburbs.
GAVIN: Your priorities for 2018, are they different from 2017?
FITZGERALD: Not much. Obviously, the Amazon thing occurred where Amazon decided that they're going to move a headquarters they call it HQ2 into another city. I assume this will be a year-long vetting project process that they will go through. We see a little bit of improvement we could make the long transition the Port Authority. So we're hiring a brand new Port Authority director; she starts in January--Katharine Kelleman, and I think you're going to see major changes in transit in 2018.
GAVIN: Let's talk a little more transportation -- BRT, haven't heard much about it recently. Are there any new developments as far as federal reaction, federal support. And what are the next steps here?
FITZGERALD: Well, continuing to work with the FTA (Federal Transportation Administration). As we know the federal government is challenged when it comes to budgets and where they're going to go with infrastructure and transportation investments. And I think Congress is sorting a lot of that out. We continue to move forward with the planning of the BRT and what type of vehicles, what type of signaling.
GAVIN: Do you expect an answer one way or another next year whether there will be federal support for the BRT?
FITZGERALD: We do know in a political year like that there's going to be a lot of dynamism. You know sometimes positive sometimes negative.
GAVIN: Is there some point where you get concerned about there could be a delay because you have a fairly strict timeline of when this could happen. It all depends on it, doesn't it?
FITZGERALD: No, not really. It's going to move forward. This is a project that, it's a major priority of this region. We've got to invest in transportation and if we're going to continue to grow as a region you know transit and transportation are very important. The BRT is important not just because of the ability for transit but actually the mobility and safety and convenience and environmental improvements for everybody even if you don't use transit, if you're in a delivery vehicle, if you're on a bike, if you're riding your car, if you're walking. We've got to be able to move people from place to place in an easy reliable and safe manner and that's what the BRT is really all about.
GAVIN: Can this move forward even if the feds say no to the BRT as far as funding?
FITZGERALD: Well, I don't I don't expect that they will [say no]. When this region shows a will and a working together we'll get things done.
GAVIN: One major thing you want to really want to accomplish in 2018. What is it?
FITZGERALD: We want to continue to improve workforce development. I think for folks that in some ways have been left behind by this economy that's moving forward. We've got to continue to work to include more people by up-skilling folks providing the skills and the opportunities. And while Pittsburgh is doing well on a macro level, not every single community and not every single individual is getting there. So getting those opportunities; so we want to make sure that that's the case.