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Clairton touts WorkLink transit model

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 7:38 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
A WorkLink van makes its way through Clairton's Miller Avenue business district on Tuesday afternoon.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
On St. Clair Avenue in Clairton, a WorkLink van approaches the city's post office at the intersection of St. Clair and Fifth Street on Tuesday afternoon.

In a plea for passage of a state transportation bill that would ensure service to city residents, Clairton officials are emphasizing the value of WorkLink routes that improve access to traditional mass transit systems.

With 13 of Allegheny County's 15 poorest communities located in the Mon Valley, according to 2000 census data, Heritage Community Initiatives acknowledged that economically disadvantaged residents were “losing what little access they had to basic services” before it established WorkLink routes in 2001.

Offering fixed-route van transportation to Clairton, McKeesport and Port Vue, Heritage Community Initiatives sought to help riders get to work, job training and employment support services. Today, WorkLink runs near Port Authority lines to give Mon Valley residents access to routes that were lost in several rounds of transit cuts.

Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi encouraged residents to contact state Reps. Rick Saccone and Bill Kortz and state Sen. James R. Brewster to push for a state transportation bill that Gov. Tom Corbett has put on his agenda for the legislature this fall.

City officials are asking residents to inform the state of their needs so that the finished law will include funds for local transportation systems.

“We're in danger of losing our Port Authority and our WorkLink service here in Clairton,” Lattanzi explained. He and other city officials met with representatives of the Heritage Community Initiatives to talk about what WorkLink does to enhance the city — a meeting that included a plea for community support.

Resident Annette Halcomb Clairton cannot afford to lose the WorkLink service.

“The WorkLink is wonderful,” Halcomb said. “When we didn't have (Port Authority) bus service and I was volunteering at the (Jefferson Regional Medical Center) hospital, it was so helpful.”

And while many residents depend on the service, Lattanzi said WorkLink has presented its share of problems.

Resident Nikki Ramseur was one of several who informed the mayor that the service was picked up by many who wanted to run errands rather than go to work.

“People would be turned down for rides because the (van) was full of intoxicated people who wanted a ride to the liquor store,” Ramseur said. “It seemed like those people had priority, and that doesn't make sense. It's called a WorkLink, not an alcohol run.”

Lattanzi said that issue and others were addressed.

“We also had a chance to take a look at their map,” he said. “They're not allowed to duplicate what Port Authority does ... So we all looked at the map extensively and suggested what may be better for our neighborhoods.”

Heritage Community Initiatives officials declined comment on the proposed route because the future of its WorkLink service is dependent on the transportation bill.

“We encourage everyone to call their legislators and help us get the bill passed,” Amy Schnarrenberger of Heritage Community Initiatives said.

Brewster, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee and the Port Authority of Allegheny County board, said the transportation bill is a priority.

“We're working hard at generating enthusiasm in the House for Senate Bill 1 to end up with a transportation bill that will keep people safe and fund mass transit,” he said. “In the Senate, we are prepared to begin that discussion. I recognize that it shouldn't be a debate. It shouldn't be politicized, and I'm hoping we can get past that.”

The Heritage Community Initiatives WorkLink office processes rider applications Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 412-351-2200.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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