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Development & Transportation

With Potential BRT Grant Funding Uncertain, Port Authority CEO Heads To Washington

90.5 WESA
Officials say the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system would make Port Authority bus service faster and more efficient throughout the system.

A federal grant program expected to be a critical funding source for Pittsburgh’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, could disappear.  

Local leaders hoped to fund half of the BRT’s estimated $200 million price tag through the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program, with a Small Starts grant. President Donald Trump’s proposed 2019 budget would phase out this program. Whether or not funding for the program continues is in Congress’ hands.

Without federal funding, it will take much longer to build the system, said Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman.

“Federal funding could stand to leverage up to $100 million for this project ... it lessens the local funding requirement and it helps us move faster,” she said. However, she added that the project will move forward with or without federal money.

Kelleman is in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with members of Congress on the subject as part of the American Public Transportation Association’s legislative conference. Kelleman said she will meet Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and other southwestern Pennsylvania representatives.

Congressman Shuster chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“It’s important for us to talk with specifically Representative Shuster in his role as committee chairman,” she said. “So he understands just how important these projects are and we make the best case possible to bring these dollars home.”

Shuster announced in January he will not seek re-election, stating that instead he wants to focus on passing an infrastructure bill.

The BRT project is essential to continue revitalization of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, said Kelleman.

“The BRT is a critical economic development tool,” she said. “It provides an opportunity to make significant investment in different parts of Pittsburgh in addition to being the best possible way to get folks from point A to point B in the corridor.”

The grant application submitted in September included plans to reduce service to a number of outlying communities, including Rankin, Swissvale, Braddock, Duquesne and McKeesport, among others. Kelleman said Port Authority has heard from elected officials that they are concerned about those proposed changes, and will hold public meetings soon.

Kelleman said she hopes her time with lawmakers will be the first conversations in an ongoing dialogue about the importance of funding public transportation projects.

Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh, Port Authority of Allegheny County and Urban Redevelopment Authority submitted an application to Small Starts in September.