Washington, Greene get glimpse of transportation vision

June 7, 2017
Ken Zapinski of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development outlines ideas to improve regional transportation. - Rick Shrum/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Ken Zapinski wheeled down to Washington to talk transportation Tuesday.

Zapinski, an executive with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, appeared at Washington & Jefferson College to provide a local view of a vision. He outlined the results of a study conducted by the Regional Transportation Alliance seeking ideas on enhancing transportation in the future in 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including Pittsburgh. The study is called Imagine Transportation 2.0.

The Allegheny Conference formed that group, which has a 22-member steering committee made up of one elected official and one business figure from Pittsburgh and each of the 10 counties: Washington, Greene, Allegheny, Fayette, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Indiana and Lawrence.

Commissioner Larry Maggi and W&J President Tori Haring-Smith represent Washington; Commissioner Blair Zimmerman is from Greene.

The RTA study group met with hundreds of businesses, groups and individuals, and came up with seven principles and 50 ideas to make transportation more efficient. The validity of the ideas, of course, depends on available funding.

“These are 50 ideas and thoughts to explore. It’s not a shopping list,” said Zapinski, whose organization supports the group, which was formed at the recommendation of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

“Many of the ideas have been around for awhile. We’re trying to inspire folks to get behind ideas and we can provide assistance. We want to select ones that are feasible and more forward.

“If people know what they want, they need to communicate with planners.”

Zapinski addressed RTA leadership and local stakeholders at W&J yesterday and will do the sane Thursday at Waynesburg University’s Stover Campus Center.

Those seven principles developed by the study group are:

• Optimize existing assets.

• Prioritize connections to jobs and education.

• Embrace new operating models.

• Make flexible, future-proof investments.

• Adopt best-management practices.

• Support multiple mobility options.

• Operate as an integrated system.

Transportation is a significant aspect of life in Washington and Greene. Washington has two interstates (79 and 70) and three major arteries (Routes 19, 40 and 88). Greene has I-79 and Routes 21 and 88. Both have miles and miles of swerving rural roads, and surfaces and bridges in need of repair.

A number of commuters travel to jobs outside of their home county. Some leave the state.

In Washington County, according to statistics compiled by RTA in 2014, 39 percent of Washington County residents with jobs worked in Allegheny County. Also, 40.3 percent (37,924) of the 93,998 county residents listed as employed traveled fewer than 10 miles to work and another 38.5 percent (36,215) commuted 10 to 24 miles. But a fairly high figure – 21.1 percent (19,859) – traveled 25 miles or more one way to earn their pay.

Three of the 50 ideas listed would have a direct effect the two local counties. Commuter transit in the I-79/Washington corridor was cited because of population growth sparked by oil and gas activity.

“The route between Washington and Pittsburgh is a major commuting corridor in both directions today,” the study said. “Some public transit systems do exist, but there is the potential to provide coordinated, reliable rapid transit service in this corridor to meet commuter, business, local resident and visitor demand while decreasing congestion and preparing for long-term growth.”

Another idea is to upgrade Route 21, which runs across Greene County, from the West Virginia line to Uniontown in Fayette County. “Despite being the primary artery for rural truck traffic to connect to I-79, many parts of the road are just two lanes and in disrepair. Additionally, Route 21 passes through Waynesburg’s downtown, and traffic bottlenecks creat issues for local businesses to attract patrons.”

Completing bicycling/hiking trails was another idea that came to the forefront. Gaps “keep (the trails) from being a complete network, and our region from enjoying” the full potential of recreation and tourism benefits.

Zapinski again stressed acting on all 50 ideas is not feasible, but pursuing selected viable options can be beneficial.

“We spend more than $1 billion in transportation in the region every year,” he said. “It makes sense to get behind something.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012. Previously, he was a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won numerous awards, including a Golden Quill, an O-R staff Golden Quill award, and four other writing awards during his 40 plus years working for daily newspapers. A lifelong Pittsburgher, he is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

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