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Mon Valley ponders proposed transit cuts

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 12:32 a.m.
Heritage Community Initiatives, a nonprofit group, provides free rides to workers from Mon Valley communities such as Clairton, East Pittsburgh, Glassport, McKeesport, North Versailles and Turtle Creek. Driver Bob Gravelle helps Judy Sabolic onto the Work Link van at the North Versailles Wal-Mart on Thursday April 26, 2012. The bus service allows her to do volunteer work for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Heritage Community Initiatives, a nonprofit group, provides free rides to workers from Mon Valley communities such as Clairton, East Pittsburgh, Glassport, McKeesport, North Versailles and Turtle Creek. Driver Bob Gravelle helps Judy Sabolic onto the Work Link van at the North Versailles Wal-Mart on Thursday April 26, 2012. The bus service allows her to do volunteer work for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Tasheanna Smith likes having a 14-seat bus pick her up at Prospect Terrace in East Pittsburgh, take her to her job at Wal-Mart in North Versailles and then back. It sure beats walking up and down 106 weed-strewn, poorly lit steps in the woods.

"At nighttime, it's scary to go up the steps," said Smith, 26, who sometimes stays with family in Prospect Terrace. "It's a lot of help to have WorkLink take you up the hill."

For the past decade, WorkLink, a federal program operated by Heritage Community Initiatives in Braddock, has provided about 10,000 free rides a month for residents in the Mon Valley to get to work, child care or education. Now Heritage is working with businesses, government and other nonprofit groups to find out whether they can compensate for a 30 percent cut in service by Port Authority.

"Our intent is to provide a feeder system to Port Authority," said Michele Atkins, president of Heritage. "The issue right now is if you live in the Mon Valley up on a hill, it's extraordinarily difficult to get to current Port Authority routes. And when those are cut, it becomes almost impossible."

The nonprofit Pittsburgh Foundation approved a $50,000 grant to Heritage on April 18 so it can assess the needs for a transportation management agency. If there's enough interest in establishing the agency, Heritage would write a business plan. Morgan said a plan could involve connecting volunteer drivers with people who need rides or coordinating the 130 vehicles owned by human service groups in the Mon Valley.

"Faced with very difficult and, some would say, draconian cuts to the transportation system, the communities are deciding to fill that gap themselves," said Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of the foundation.

Port Authority has slated six routes for elimination that affect the Mon Valley, said Sarah Morgan, Heritage's manager of WorkLink. Turtle Creek, White Oak and Wilmerding would lose all of their Port Authority service, and North Versailles would lose all of its stops except one at Wal-Mart.

Ben Williams, a student development specialist at the South Campus of Community College of Allegheny County, said the transit plan would cut the frequency of service to the campus and eliminate it after 10 p.m.

"One student said, 'How will you finish your degree if you can't physically get to campus or get to the mall to pay for your degree?' " Williams said.

Dave Coplan, executive director of Human Services Center in Turtle Creek, favors creating the transportation management agency.

"This next round of potential Port Authority bus cuts will render most people in the Mon Valley isolated from their basic human needs," said Coplan, who also is director of the Mon Valley Providers Council, an alliance of 70 human service agencies.

Born with cerebral palsy, Judy Sabolic, 56, of North Versailles relies heavily on Heritage's existing transit service. She rides a Heritage bus to do volunteer work for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

"If I can't get there, then that would mean I couldn't volunteer," she said. "Then I would be stuck at home, and that would be a drastic lifestyle change for me."


A closer look

To view routes to be cut by the Port Authority, go to : http://www.portauthority.org/paac/portals/capital/2012Budget/SysMapRed.pdf

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