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Few turn out for discussion of transportation

| Sunday, Nov. 11, 2001

Given the chance last week to have a say in the future of public transportation in their township and region, Cranberry Township residents passed.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission are working on what the two bodies are calling the 20/20 Vision Study, which will come up with a 25-year master plan of goals for public transportation in the nine counties of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Considering everything from light rail to more bus routes, planners are hoping to meet the needs of the region's dwellers who might not have a vehicle or would prefer to leave it at home.

On Thursday, representatives from the Port Authority and commission were in Cranberry to take suggestions from Cranberry business leaders and residents.

However, they walked away with little advice.

No business owners showed up for an afternoon meeting set up just for them. At the evening's public hearing, only three community members attended, along with two township supervisors.

Dan Santoro, the township's assistant manager of planning and policy development, said the poor turnout was due in part to Cranberry officials failing to properly notify residents of the meeting.

Santoro said he hoped to have more attendance at two additional meetings scheduled this week.

Bill Ambrass, township supervisor, said another meeting for business people will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and another public hearing for residents will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Both meetings will be in the municipal building, 2525 Rochester Road.

Ambrass, who attended the meeting Thursday, said he was disappointed that more people did not show up to make comments, particularly because many people have complained about a shortage of park-and-ride lots and businesses owners have complained about a shortage of workers in the area because of a lack of public transportation.

"I was surprised. I expected more interest," Ambrass said. "If I was a business owner, and the Port Authority was talking about extending their service to my front door, I think the least that I could do is show up (at the meeting)."

Despite the small turnout, Donald Carter from Urban Design Associates - the firm hired to coordinate the meetings and draw up the master plan - proceeded with the hearing in an effort to learn Cranberry's strengths and weaknesses and how its people could be served better by public transportation as a whole.

Among the suggestions given was creating more frequent Port Authority bus routes from Cranberry to Downtown and adding routes from Cranberry to other stops, such as Oakland and the airport; extending bus routes to provide door-to-door public transportation to doctor's offices in the city; adding more park-and-ride lots; and using railways for passenger travel to the city and back.

Carter said so far the majority of people in the counties surrounding Allegheny County have said they want better access to Downtown, Oakland and the airport. The most popular use of public transportation is as a means to get to work, Carter said.

He said turnout at other public meetings and focus group sessions had been greater than it was in Cranberry on Thursday. But, he said, the earlier meetings have been more region-oriented as opposed to Thursday's, which was just for township residents.

The vision study began in January and will continue until next June. During the study, Carter and officials from the Port Authority and commission have conducted meetings and interviews across western Pennsylvania. During the last three months of the study, Carter said, the groups will look into the cost of the proposed ideas and how they could be put into place.

Because such projects typically rely heavily on federal and state money, the projects would have to be approved by a number of bodies before the ideas ever could become a reality by 2025.

Carter said according to commission numbers, about $11.5 billion has been set aside for highway work until 2025. Of that amount, $8.5 billion has been earmarked for maintaining existing roads, leaving $3 billion for new projects.

Carter said about $10 billion has been set aside for public transportation during the next 25 years, according to commission numbers. Of that, $8.5 billion will be needed to maintain the current system, leaving $1.5 billion for new additions.

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