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No fare hikes or service cuts planned in Port Authority budget

| Friday, June 27, 2014, 12:04 p.m.

After years of operating under the threat of service cuts and layoffs, Port Authority of Allegheny County's board of directors approved a 6 percent spending increase on Friday that includes money to hire workers and beef up service.

“We're definitely in a better position today than we've been in for several years,” said board Chairman Robert Hurley.

The board is not done with the $388.5 million operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, starting July 1. It plans to reopen the budget within two weeks to search for about $3 million it can use to study developing rapid bus service between Downtown and Oakland, Hurley said.

Port Authority and community groups have considered so-called Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, for more than two years. The service features fewer stops and shorter waiting times than traditional routes.

Planners have whittled 10 potential routes for BRT service to two, Hurley said, noting the service would run in the Fifth-Forbes corridor between an undetermined point in Downtown and a location near Carnegie Mellon University.

“It's an important project for the region,” Hurley said.

He said the proposed study would identify the best option and be used in an application for federal funding to help cover start-up costs, estimated at $180 million to $200 million. Port Authority intends to apply in August 2016.

Allegheny County committed $1 million toward the study, Hurley said.

Port Authority's operating and capital budgets were bolstered by increased funding from the state's Act 89, a law that will generate $2.3 billion annually for transportation within five years. It will provide an extra $91 million to Port Authority in the coming fiscal year.

The operating budget is 6 percent larger than this year's $366.6 million spending plan, and the $183.5 million budget for capital improvements in the coming fiscal year is 45 percent larger than this year's.

The extra money will enable Port Authority to hire 31 workers and boost the number of buses running on some of the agency's busiest routes, in an attempt to reduce overcrowding and improve on-time performance. The changes will take effect in August. Port Authority did not say which routes will be affected.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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