‘Bienvenidos Todos’: Port Authority CEO Says Agency Does Not, Will Not Work With ICE

Jul 26, 2019

Transit police with the Port Authority of Allegheny County are not working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, CEO Katharine Kelleman said at the agency’s board meeting Friday morning. The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened increased raids on people without documentation and businesses who hire those without work permits.

“To quote someone who was a mentor of mine: 'The loss of human dignity cannot be a precondition for using public transit,'” she said. “Everyone riding us deserves to ride with dignity and respect and not have to worry that this is the last trip they’re going to take away from their family or with their family.”

Kelleman wasn’t certain there had been ICE raids in the Pittsburgh area, but said she still wanted to reassure people.

“We want people to know they’re safe before they have a reason to be worried about it,” she said. Everyone is welcome, she told the board in Spanish. “Bienvenidos todos a Port Authority. We are safe spaces for everybody.”

Kelleman added that people must feel secure in order to ensure the safety of the system, and to report incidents or suspicious packages.

“God forbid somebody felt too frightened to get the help they need or to help the rest of us.”

Also on Friday, the agency’s board approved a proposed cooperation agreement between Port Authority, the City of Pittsburgh and its Urban Redevelopment Authority and Allegheny County for the region’s bus rapid transit plan.

The system would carry passengers between downtown and Oakland before branching off to Greenfield, Highland Park and the Mon Valley communities of Homestead, McKeesport, Swissvale, Rankin, Braddock and North Braddock.

The URA originally led the project’s application to the Federal Transit Administration for Small Starts grant funding, but the BRT is a transit project and the transit authority should lead it, said Kelleman.

“We clearly have a larger staff and we have the ability to tap into different funding,” she said. “We can move the project faster.”

The FTA has given consistently high ratings to the project, for which Port Authority will request $95 million, but has yet to commit any funding. The agency will resubmit the application before August 23, according to spokesperson Adam Brandolph. It will need finalized letters of commitment from city, county and state officials stating “everyone’s checkbook is ready to go forward,” said Kelleman.

Chief development officer David Huffaker is confident Port Authority will receive federal support, and said Port Authority will work to improve efficiency and reduce congestion in the corridor even before they break ground on BRT.

“There are going to be a multitude of practices that we’re going to be putting in place to bring about some of those travel time savings,” he said. “Everything from signal improvements, travel lanes that are dedicated to transit, and also curb and crosswalk improvements."

As city officials and companies in Pittsburgh work to provide alternative transit options for residents — such as electric scooters, bikes, and possibly expanded rideshare — Port Authority envisions a future where those choices feed seamlessly into central travel lines.

“Our vision is that Port Authority is the leader regionally for these big lines, the heavy haulers,” Kelleman said. “The places where you have so many people moving that it makes sense to have a larger vehicle.”

In addition, Port Authority is improving communication with riders. This week, the agency began installing 55-inch weatherproof, digital displays on the T to show real-time arrival information; similar installations on the busways will be completed by the end of the year.

The news comes as the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said it will issue a bond to send capital funding to transit agencies across the state. The money had been on hold while the PTC faced a lawsuit from truck drivers and motorists that alleged using toll revenue to pay for transit violated federal law. The lawsuit was dismissed in April. Port Authority expects to receive both 2019 and 2020 capital funding; an amended capital budget will be presented to the board in September.