Pittsburgh City Council appears poised to allocate $12.8 million for Port Authority of Allegheny County’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit project, though at least one council member has said the city should investigate whether that cash could be spent on other infrastructure needs.
Port Authority has touted the Bus Rapid Transit project as a “high-quality, bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable and cost-effective services via dedicated lanes and frequent operations.”
The transit agency’s plan for the Downtown-Uptown-Oakland-East End BRT service would include a core route running east and west between Downtown and Oakland, with three branches that go to Greenfield, Highland Park and through several Mon Valley communities.
The$250 million project is being funded by various levels of government. The federal government has allocated over $100 million, including more than $19 million in American Rescue Plan dollars.
Construction is set to begin next year, said Steve Auterman with the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.
The $12.8 million that City Council is considering allocating would come from bond money budgeted for 2021, 2022 and 2023, Auterman said.
Councilwoman Deb Gross said council members should investigate whether that “substantial amount of money” could be put to use on other infrastructure needs, such as repairing the city’s aging bridges. Because the money is coming from bonds, she said, city officials may not be able to reallocate the funds to different projects.
“Because it comes from bonds — which is borrowing from investors — it’s restricted to things we promised to build,” Gross said, explaining she has not been able to get a final answer from other local officials about whether that would restrict the use of this money.
If they did have the option to spend the money elsewhere, Gross said, she felt council members should consider holding public meetings to determine whether the residents would like to see money go toward the BRT project or other infrastructure needs.
“I just want to make sure council and the public know what the options are,” she said. “If there’s interest in having a more public conversation about what are our priorities in 2022, that’s City Council’s responsibility.”
Redirecting those funds is likely not feasible, said Maria Montaño, a spokesperson for Mayor Ed Gainey.
“It appears that those funds are obligated as part of a local match for federal funding for this project,” she said, explaining that requirement is a “limiting factor” in how the cash can be used.
Port Authority did not respond to requests for comment.
City Council could vote on the proposal as early as Tuesday.