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Transportation wish list includes more buses, new connector

| Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 7:00 p.m.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Motorists wait at the traffic lights at the Route 30 intersection of Greengate Center Drive and Greengate Road on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 in Greensburg.

To improve Southwestern Pennsylvania's competitiveness and quality of life for 2.5 million residents, public transportation must be improved, particularly along busy corridors connecting Pittsburgh with adjacent counties.

In Westmoreland County, buses should be prioritized on Route 30, and the long-postponed Laurel Valley Connector should be built.

Those are among 50 "ideas to explore" outlined Tuesday at Westmoreland County Community College from a report on future transportation needs in the 10-county region. About 20 representatives from business, education and the community attended WCCC's Advanced Technology Center in East Huntingdon to discuss Imagine Transportation 2.0, a report produced by the Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania , a coalition of public and private partners from each of the 10 counties in the region.

"This is an ongoing, long-term initiative. We hope it influences the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission's long-range process. We hope it sparks participation by the public and is embraced by the region," said Ken Zapinski, senior vice president for energy and infrastructure for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a Pittsburgh-based economic development organization.

The report took about 18 months to develop and included meetings with 1,000 different groups, said Zapinski, who was the senior leader of Allegheny Conference staff that produced the project.

The need for improving public transportation through corridors region-wide and connecting regional transit systems was mentioned in about 17 of the 50 "ideas to explore."

"We got far more feedback to improve public transportation than we expected in our wildest dreams," Zapinski said. "There is a tremendous interest in improving and expanding public transportation so we don't have to rely on driving our car."

Commuters are a major factor in Westmoreland County, where 34 percent of workers travel to Allegheny County for their jobs, Zapinski said.

Daily commute

The blog "I Like Big Bytes" created an interactive commuter map that shows where people live and work, broken down to the county level. The image above shows commuters from Westmoreland County who travel more than 20 miles to get to work. To customize a search for other counties, click here .

The report found that 35,000 commuters travel daily 25 to 50 miles west and northwest into the Allegheny County job market, while 21,000 commuters go between 10 and 24 miles into Allegheny County, according to census data.

About 7,000 commuters in the county have a daily trip of less than 10 miles to work.

One idea to explore is coordinating public transit, allowing commuters from outlying counties to connect with Allegheny County's Port Authority Transit system, Zapinski said.

"There is a lot of room for connections. We are open to coordinating with anyone, if it benefits the people of Westmoreland County," said Alan Blahovec, executive director of the Westmoreland Transit Authority.

Improving public transportation in Westmoreland County has been a big issue raised in public meetings about the county's ongoing comprehensive plan, Blahovec said.

The proposed Laurel Valley Connector — which would link the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Route 981 intersection in Mt. Pleasant Township with Route 30 near the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport — has been frequently cited for years by county officials as vital to economic growth.

"It's clear that it's a high-priority project," said James Smith, president of the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland, a Greensburg-based economic development organization.

The connector would link the county's transportation hub at New Stanton with industry in the Latrobe area plus the airport near Latrobe, Smith said. That highway could cut travel time from New Stanton to Latrobe from 45 minutes to 18 minutes, he said.

While county commuters who drive the morning rush hour into Pittsburgh via the Parkway East are often stuck in heavy traffic from the Penn Hills and Churchill exits to the Squirrel Hill Tunnels, none of the 50 "ideas" mentioned improving the Parkway East. The report did note improvements are needed to address traffic congestion caused by the tunnel itself and interchanges near its entrances, which the report considered a "major impediment" to traffic.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or

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