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Mon Valley bus riders cheer Port Authority decision not to cut routes when BRT is built

Theresa Clift
| Friday, April 13, 2018, 12:36 a.m.

Port Authority of Allegheny County no longer plans to cut service on any bus routes after building a Bus Rapid Transit system — an announcement that caused a room of about 100 Mon Valley riders to break in to applause Thursday.

“Never at the expense of any neighborhood should another neighborhood get anything better,” Port Authority CEO Katherine Eagan Kelleman, who's going on her third month at the helm, told the full room at the Rankin Christian Center. “And we clearly heard that's what we brought out last year.”

It was welcome news to the riders, but many lamented that they were not consulted earlier and that Port Authority officials only made the change after nearly a year of public outcry.

“It took so much work to make this happen,” said Tina Doose, Braddock Council president, told the room. “I think there should be a process that we're involved on the ground floor when the problems come up to make sure there is an opportunity for us to voice our concerns.

“I'm glad it's happening now, and I know we have new leadership that is new to Port Authority so I hope this is a real big change.”

Kelleman promised to deliver that big change, but said she understood it would take time to earn the trust back from many riders. She stood at the front of the room for more than two hours as one by one, riders took the microphone to share their frustrations.

“We are acutely aware that we didn't listen the first time, and we know you're going to need to see us a lot to trust we're not going to backslide,” Kelleman said. “You are going to see us more often.”

The authority announced in May that as part of a plan to build a new bus system to better connect Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, several Mon Valley routes would lose nonstop service to Downtown, and that transferring could come with a fee.

For the economically distressed Mon Valley, where many residents rely on public transit to get to jobs, medical appointments and grocery stores, the cuts would have been crippling, some said.

Mon Valley riders have been raising concerns at every authority board meeting for nearly a year. Their efforts included a protest for Kelleman's first board meeting on the streets of Downtown in January.

For Laura Wiens, head of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, which organized those efforts, Thursday night's news meant the hard work had paid off.

“After thousands of riders mobilized in the Mon Valley, we appreciate after several months, we have an outcome that takes their voices in to consideration,” Wiens said.

In addition to not cutting service, the authority's new preferred plan also expands the number of routes that would become BRT routes, which will be faster and with new stations.

Under the new plan, routes 61A, 61B, 61C, 71B, and P3 will become BRT routes and routes 61D, 71A, 71C and 71D will become local routes that end in Oakland, the authority announced. The frequency will remain the same.

Under the new plan, the P3 no longer serve Swissvale to Oakland nonstop, but will instead serve Wilkinsburg to Downtown, said Adam Brandolph, Port Authority spokesman.

After getting more public feedback in the coming months, the authority plans to resubmit its application for federal funding with an application to reflect the changes.

The edits will not affect the $195.5 million price tag — about half of which they're hoping to get from a Federal Transit Administration grant program . Officials plan to get $39 million in state funding and $28 million in local funding for the project, they said.

The authority plans to start construction in 2019 and to have the system up and running in late 2021.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, or via Twitter @tclift.

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