U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited Pittsburgh Monday to get a first-hand report on the city’s bid for a $50 million federal transportation grant.
Foxx heard the plan from foundation and nonprofit representatives, along with elected officials, at a roundtable discussion at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
After listening to the informal presentations, Foxx said he thinks Pittsburgh will be “very competitive” with the six other remaining cities, which include Austin, Denver and Portland, because of its innovative approach to the “Smart City” grant.
“This isn’t the Pittsburgh of my youth," Foxx said. "This is a Pittsburgh that is regenerating and is revitalizing and is figuring out the future.”
Pittsburgh’s grant bid includes some futuristic ideas, like roadways that charge electric cars as they drive, and traffic lights that communicate with vehicles to improve timing.
Regardless of whether Pittsburgh wins the $50 million prize, mayor Bill Peduto said he wants to go through with the plan.
Pittsburgh was awarded an unexpected, unasked-for $11 million grant from the state Department of Transportation Friday to help the city begin funding the initiatives in its Smart City plan.
“We can leverage that now against other corporate, other foundation and, potentially, other government amounts as well, so this $50 million challenge may become $100 million,” Peduto said.
Peduto said he’d also try to attract private funding from local foundations and corporations.
“I think that there’s so much excitement around this project that I have not seen, and there’s people being pulled into rooms that have never been in the same rooms together, that there’s too much energy not to see this succeed in one way or another,” Peduto said.
The mayor said he’ll ask council in November to consider budgeting for a new city department to handle big-picture planning of transportation and infrastructure projects.
"We don’t have the capacity under our present structure of the Department of Public Works, Department of City Planning and other departments to be able to keep up, so we need to create a new Department of Mobility and Infrastructure,” Peduto said.
But the mayor acknowledged that Pittsburgh’s plan would take years longer to carry out without the federal grant, which it set to be awarded in late June.
Foxx said Pittsburgh could still win some federal funding for its plan even if it doesn't win the Smart City grant.
“We’ve got a team of people back in Washington cross-checking (all cities') applications and figuring out where they have eligibility in other federal programs, because we do want to see them accomplish what they set out,” Foxx said.