Ellwood City Ledger: Southwest Pennsylvania Commission leading charge for better transportation infrastructure

The administration of Gov. Josh Shapiro says it is committed to enhancing and expanding the state’s long-range transportation infrastructure, recognizing its pivotal role in Pennsylvanians’ daily lives.

The aim is to ensure residents have access to safe, reliable, and efficient transportation services, facilitating their work commutes, grocery runs and social engagements, among other transit needs.

A beacon of hope in this endeavor is the “2045 long-range transportation plan,” a visionary roadmap that promises to transform mass transit across the state. This plan could usher in a new era of transportation, one that is more accessible, efficient and sustainable, sparking excitement for a brighter future.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, under the new leadership of former Allegheny County executive director Rich Fitzgerald, plays a pivotal role in managing transportation projects in the region.

Fitzgerald recently explained how the long-range plan is updated through the Transportation Improvement Program, which encompasses public transit, roads, bridges and other infrastructure in the area. He also mentioned how, during the process, transit operators and the county commissioners meet regularly and continually update the plans and the needs they see coming.

“We know that probably about 30% of the people who work in downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, which are the two largest employment centers in the region, don’t live in the city of Pittsburgh or Allegheny County. They come from Beaver County, Butler County, Washington County and Westmoreland. So, they do need transportation to those plans,” Fitzgerald said.

According to a PennDOT study, 51% of Pennsylvania residents regularly choose walking or biking as their preferred mode of transportation, while only 19% opt for public transit or rail. The study also revealed residents’ primary concerns are road pavement and traffic flow. Additionally, public transportation ranked sixth out of the 10 concerns Pennsylvania residents prioritized for the state.

As people think about the importance of investing in our public transportation system, it’s worth noting that projects like the ones mentioned by Fitzgerald are crucial for ensuring the safety and efficiency of roadways. By improving infrastructure and investing in public transportation, officials can make communities in the region more connected and accessible to everyone.

A study by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that 45% of Americans lack access to transit due to an aging system and insufficient maintenance funds. Over a decade, 19% of transit vehicles and 6% of fixed guideway elements were rated as “poor,” contributing to a transit backlog of $176 billion that is expected to grow to over $250 billion by 2029.

Considering those issues and investments, leaders say there is a significant need to improve the country’s transportation infrastructure. SPC’s website states the region’s long-term transportation plan will receive investments of over $5.6 billion from state, federal and local funds to improve the area’s transportation system.

Additionally, the 2023-26 Transportation Improvement Plan includes the allocation of $2.1 billion for public transit and $1.5 billion for road and bridge projects, with an extra $2 billion in funding from federal, state and private sources for significant projects such as interstates and railways during the same period.

Fitzgerald believes now is an opportune time for investment in transportation and infrastructure. The bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2023 provided up to $108 billion to support federal public transportation programs like the Long-Range Transportation Plan.

“I think a couple of things that we want to emphasize are, No. 1, we want to make sure that we not only get our fair share, but we can also do things to improve the economic climate, safety, economic growth, and quality of life for folks in the Southwestern Pennsylvania area,” Fitzgerald said.

“While oftentimes we take roads, bridges and infrastructure for granted, those major issues are making sure that we’re planning and maintaining and improving the infrastructure for public safety, economic growth and quality of life.”

View the full article at ellwoodcityledger.com.