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Lack of alternate routes for maglev frustrates officials

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, March 6, 2003

Robinson officials are becoming increasingly frustrated in their effort to change a proposed maglev route through the community.

Commissioners and several residents are unhappy with what they say is a lack of cooperation from the Port Authority of Allegheny County and Maglev Inc. officials, and commissioners say they are uncertain what lawyers and engineers they are paying are doing for them.

Robinson commissioners in October went on record opposing a proposed maglev route they say would cut their township in half, upsetting homes and businesses.

The high-speed magnetic levitation train would travel through Robinson between Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay and Downtown, part of the overall 54-mile route between the airport and Greensburg. A decision on whether Pittsburgh or the competing Baltimore-Washington, D.C., project will receive nearly $1 billion in federal funds for the project is expected later this year.

Robinson commissioners say they have seen bills from engineers and lawyers they have hired to make their case for a different route, but with no results. Commissioners Chairman Bill Blumling said the township already has exceeded by $2,000 the $10,000 it had set aside to pay a Washington, D.C., law firm.

"I don't know what we're getting for the bills," he said. "I haven't seen anything."

Commissioner David Winning also said things have been moving too slowly.

"We have to start constantly pushing," he said.

Township officials also say the Port Authority and other project representatives have not responded to their requests for information. Engineer Larry Lennon said he had been promised information by e-mail Monday but did not receive it, and township planning director Rick Urbano said the township has not received any of the information it has asked for since September.

Port Authority officials previously had pledged to work with the township.

"Apparently, they don't understand what good faith is," Commissioner Dan Tallon said.

Port Authority spokesman Bob Grove said the authority has been listening to Robinson's concerns, answering township officials' questions, providing information and studying alternate routes or modifications to previously studied routes.

"We've pledged to them to continue this work as we are attempting to advance the project and address their concerns," he said.

Resident Dan Vete Jr. said he had mixed feelings about a meeting with Port Authority and maglev representatives Monday. He said the officials presented only two alternate routes, with little detail for either one.

Vete said residents and township officials need to do more to get across the message that the proposed route will not work and that the only acceptable route should follow an existing transportation corridor. Robinson officials have said they want the maglev route to follow the Parkway West and the Port Authority's West Busway.

Vete suggested starting letter and phone campaigns.

"We need to prove to them this is serious to us," Vete said. "We either care or don't care."

Although Urbano and some commissioners discussed taking legal action, Solicitor Sam Kamin said the township is still working with facts and is not at the point of filing a lawsuit. He said the township needs to focus on environmental and economic concerns and handle the matter in a businesslike fashion.

Kamin said the township has options but was reluctant to speak of them in public, alluding to a poker game and not wanting to reveal his hand.

"You do have some advantages, but I'm not ready to talk about them yet," he told commissioners.

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