What the New Infrastructure Bill Means for Pittsburgh Transit Riders

Image description: screen capture from WPXI report of PPT Treasurer Mayor Nickole Nesby speaking at a press conference with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and State Senator Linsey Williams about what the Infrastructure Bill will do for public transit in Allegheny County.

New Infrastructure Bill will bring historic levels of funding to Port Authority for capital projects – but it will also mean historic levels of highway funding too… We need the Senate to pass the Build Back Better act for climate justice now.

For the last two years, PPT members have been calling for the federal government to step up their support for transit. We held a 300+ rider statewide town hall with Senator Bob Casey, a letter campaign demanding federal funding for transit operations, we published a report of what federal funding for transit service would do to expand job access for residents of Northview Heights and Braddock, we met with Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg himself to make the case (!) and we held a rally in front of Representative Lamb’s office; it’s no exaggeration to say that transit riders have been at the forefront of a movement for a federal infrastructure bill that meets our community’s needs and tackles the climate crisis. 

President Biden and Congress recently passed a massive infrastructure bill. For the tens of millions of people who depend on public transit every day, this new law is an important victory, and will be a historic investment in public transit. But our work is not done. Transit riders will continue to organize and demand the Build Back Better Act to ensure that federal funding is made available for transit operating needs like service expansion in underserved communities and fare reductions, and not just for capital expenses.

Specifically, the funding in the Build Back Better and infrastructure bills will allow communities like Allegheny County to:

●      Improve operations to ensure that buses and trains run frequently and reliably 

●      Help connect more lower-income residents to safe and reliable public transit options

●      Purchase new buses, trains, and streetcars, and repair or replace ones that are out of service

●      Improve public transit accessibility for seniors and persons with mobility impairments

●      Expand transit options in rural and Tribal communities 

●      Invest in transportation solutions that reduce air pollution and help address the climate crisis

On November 17th, PPT Board Treasurer Mayor Nikole Nesby spoke at a press conference with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and PA Sen Lindsey Williams laying out how the Federal Infrastructure Bill could provide funding to transform transit in the Mon Valley, and why we still need more.

Read her comments and see the press footage below:

“My name is Mayor Nickole Nesby and I am the Mayor of the mighty city of Duquesne, Pennsylvania. I am here today to celebrate the passage of the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act because of the potential that it has for my community. 

When I say the mighty city of Duquesne, I mean it, because for years our city has been passed over, disinvested, and left to fend for itself. We had to organize our own plans for how to improve our access to public transit, how to clean up our water, how to get internet access to kids who needed it to finish their homework. 

Let me tell you about our campaign to expand the East Busway into the Mon Valley & bring the benefits of affordable, rapid, public transportation to the residents of Duquesne. See, communities like mine don’t often get transportation plans made to improve them. In fact, in 2016, when the Port Authority started the Downtown to Oakland Bus Rapid Transit planning process, they included a proposal to cut our lifeline bus service in half, with increased transfers and costs. In a community like Duquesne, where 76.6% of the residents live below the poverty line, where unemployment is over 40%, that was unacceptable. But we the residents of the Mon Valley didn’t mourn, we organized. We protested and we spoke up and we stopped those service cuts. But our work didn’t stop there because just maintaining the status quo isn’t much of a win. Residents of Duquesne deserve more investment into quality transit. We put out the Riders Vision for Public Transit, and called for an expansion of the East Busway into Duquesne and beyond, allowing rapid access for our residents to job centers and healthcare and education hubs. Duquesne community leaders like Ms. Debra Green and Linda Warman went out and surveyed hundreds of transit riders in the on Valley to figure out the best alignment for this transit and the key destinations that our people need to get to. And now we’re bringing OUR PLANS from the small but mighty city of Duquesne, PA all the way up to Capitol Hill.  

Now, the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act will be a historic investment to face the historic proportions of the issues we face. $39 billion for public transit. $55 billion for water & lead line replacement. $65 billion for broadband internet access. These resources can be life-changing, if they’re paired with the efforts and vision of residents like Ms. Debra Green and Linda Warman. 

There’s no shortage of work to do. We still have mothers pushing strollers and dodging cars on the street because there’s not been money for safe and accessible sidewalks in Duquesne. We’ve got a serious lead problem with our water, and many folks don’t have the resources to pay for that water, toxic as it is. And there are many families that don’t have access to broadband in their homes, and this past year of remote schooling has left too many of our kids behind. 

The federal infrastructure bill has the power to change this. We know now that the funds are available, that our visions, that our demands for mighty cities all across the United States like Duquesne can be realized with real dollars. 

It’s so important to celebrate our wins. It’s a damn good first step. But we ALSO need the passage of the Build Back Better Act still in Congress to make this transformation complete. Investing in early childhood education, in paid sick leave, in transit OPERATIONS FUNDING, so that we don’t get left with great transit infrastructure but no bus service. 

Let’s get to work. We know what we’ve got to do here in Duquesne– we’ve been doing it for years. We know that our residents that are experiencing these hardships are the best ones to design the solutions that should be funded. 

To our elected leaders on Capitol Hill: thank you for this important infrastructure bill. It means a lot. We’ve been where you are, where we could’ve stopped just shy of the finish line– organizing just to stay afloat, to prevent the harm from expanding. But you’re mighty, just like we are. So let’s finish the job. Pass Build Back Better too, and you’ll have moved from passing what was necessary to doing something that will be truly transformative. 

Thank you.”

See the reporting on WPXI, featuring Mayor Nickole Nesby’s comments here: Allegheny County Leaders Detail How Infrastructure Bill Will Impact You