Fitz irate over transit/tunnel screwups

Published by Tim McNulty on .

The Hulk

You think Saturday night was bad at the new trolley stations on the other side of the North Shore tunnel? Wait until Steelers season.

The Port Authority claims it doesn't have the funding to run extra trolleys after big events anymore, which in part led to embarrassing transit failures over the weekend, wherein marathoners visiting from around the country and Pirates fans were stranded due to few buses and trolleys.

The failures angered county exec Rich Fitzgerald (illustrated via Avengers tie-in above), who appoints the PAT board. If he thought the half-billion connector project was a PR loser before, wait until voters start releasing the transit agency can't even use it effectively during the very events associated with the North Shore in the first place.

From Jon Schmitz:

"This problem is going to get solved. If it can't get solved by the people who are here, we'll find people who can solve it," Mr. Fitzgerald said in a phone interview.

He clearly was irate about reports that large numbers of riders waited 45 minutes or longer on crowded station platforms after the Pirates game on Saturday night, when Light Rail Transit service was plagued by a shortage of operators and trips were missed.

He also said the authority needs to redeploy service to better accommodate large crowds after events. Jim Ritchie, authority spokesman, said this week that the agency cannot afford to add service after major events as it has in the past.

"I'm certain there were empty buses running somewhere in the county on Saturday. They have to redeploy," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "We need to adjust to the marketplace. They certainly get paid enough to know when the crowds are going to require this service."

Pirates games on Saturday typically draw crowds of 30,000 or more, and having inadequate service at the ballpark after more than $500 million was invested extending the T there is "unacceptable," he said. "It's one of the reasons we sold this to the public years and years ago."

To be fair, PAT has been saying for months that the tunnel project was built more for daily commuting than the eight regular season Steeler games or other big-turnout events through each year. Here's the agency's former rail operations/engineering officer Wayne Simmons to Jon in March:

After stadium events, authority police and personnel will control access to the North Shore stations to prevent overcrowding on the platforms. That may mean some lines forming on the sidewalks outside the stations. The system can move a maximum of about 6,800 people per hour with two-car trains operating every three minutes after a major event, Mr. Simmonds said.

Asked what he will say when he is inevitably asked why the authority didn't build bigger platforms, he replied, "You don't build the church for Easter Sunday."

UPDATE: Fitzgerald issued the statement below:

"The wait time and lack of service provided by the Port Authority this past weekend to residents and visitors alike is absolutely inexcusable. This agency must be responsive to its customers, and the recent problems indicate to me that it is not the focus of the management.

"There is absolutely no valid explanation for why there was no planning or preparation for this past weekend's influx of people into the city. It's not as if the Pirates' schedule, the Stage AE concert or the Pittsburgh Marathon were a surprise to anyone. A few call offs due to illness should have had little impact on service if planning had been done appropriately. Beyond the service, the basics of providing information on when to expect the next train or signage directing people to the subway remains a missing part of this equation.

"This will be fixed – either within the existing structure, or with changes from the top to the bottom."


Former Sen. Mellow pleads guilty

Published by Karen Langley on .

Robert Mellow, a former longtime leader of Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate, pleaded guilty today in a public corruption case involving the use of state employees for political work.

The Scranton Times-Tribune reports that Mellow pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and to filing a false federal tax return for 2008.

From the story:

Speaking mostly in short bursts rather than the lofty oratory he employed in the Senate chambers, Mr. Mellow told U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky he had voluntarily signed an agreement to plead guilty.

And then:

"How say you ... guilty or not guilty?" the judge asked.

"Guilty, your honor," Mr. Mellow said.

The Associated Press reports that Mellow faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced.

Mellow was the state Senate's longest-serving member when he retired in 2010. He had been the Democratic floor leader for much of the previous two decades and served as president pro tem for about 16 months in the early 1990s.


Fiscal board still at odds with Ravenstahl

Published by Tim McNulty on .

The city's Republican-controlled fiscal oversight board remains at odds with Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration.

The board released its latest look at city finances today and it's pretty grim, despite arguments from the Ravenstahl team that the city's budget has rebounded and it should be released from its 8 years of state oversight. From Joe Smydo:

In a new report, state overseers don't say how much longer Pittsburgh should remain in financial oversight but indicate that they plan to stick around at least for another year.

The city is making financial progress, but "continues to face significant financial challenges," including labor costs, potential revenue shortfalls and post-retiree health care liability of $488.6 million, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority said in the annual update, posted on its website.

The 40-page report is available in pdf here.

The 5-member board (with members appointed by the governor and the four General Assembly caucus leaders) briefly rescinded its approval of the city's 2012 budget in February and later criticized Ravenstahl for meeting with bond ratings agencies while it was unapproved. (Ravenstahl was there in January with city councilors Darlene Harris and Ricky Burgess to get support for an $80 million bond issue. Less than a week later two of the three major ratings firms upgraded their outlooks on the city.)

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority is one of two state teams that have overseen city finances since 2004. The other, the Act 47 team, released a report in October also saying city finances haven't fully recovered.

The last ICA quarterly board meeting in March featured long presentations at the invitation of the board on the city's debt, including one from Eric Montari of the Allegheny Institute, a local conservative think tank.


RS talks Romneycare, social issues on Leno

Published by Tim McNulty on .


Rick Santorum was on Leno last night to explain his email endorsement of Mitt Romney (which Jim O'Toole has more on today).

"We just needed some time. It was a rough and tumble campaign," Santorum says.

Leno is a Massachusetts native and he spends much of the segment asking Santorum about Romneycare. "You wouldn't want the government running the Tonight Show," Santorum says. "I see how it looks with NBC running it," Leno responds.

Leno, a supporter of gay marriage, goes on to argue about gay marriage with the former senator.


WVa no fan of Obama

Published by Tim McNulty on .


West Virginia really, really, really doesn't like Barack Obama.

Anger -- even among members of his own party -- is so great at the president that more than 40 percent of Democratic voters next door cast ballots for a Texas felon over the president in the state's primary yesterday.

The WVa Secretary of State site shows 42% of the state's Democrats voted for Keith Judd in the state's primary yesterday to 58% for Obama. Judd is in a federal pen in Texas for making threats against the University of Mexico in 1999.

From the AP:

Judd was able to get on the state ballot by paying a $2,500 fee and filing a form known as a notarized certification of announcement, said Jake Glance, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's office.

Attracting at least 15 percent of the vote would normally qualify a candidate for a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. But state Democratic Party Executive Director Derek Scarbro said no one has filed to be a delegate for Judd. The state party also believes that Judd has failed to file paperwork required of presidential candidates, but officials continue to research the matter, Scarbro said.

Even Sen. Joe Manchin won't say if he voted for the president or the inmate (or left the ballot blank):

Manchin, who refused to say whether he voted for Obama on Tuesday, said he's grateful that most voters look at the totality of his voting record, not whether he follows the party line.

"The people of West Virginia have been very, very keen in coming to the conclusion of who they're going to vote for, and they'll do it again," the two-term former governor said. "I think everyone knows I'm just West Virginia Joe. I don't just say what they want me to say. ... I'm going to speak out when it doesn't make sense. And if something does make sense, I don't care whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, I'm going to vote for it."

Obama lost the state to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the '08 WVa primary and again to John McCain in the general. His approval numbers there are the second worst of any state in the entire nation, according to some polls.

Republicans have been chipping away at the state. David McKinley was the first Republican to take WVa's northern tier congressional district in four decades in 2010, and the GOP is already targeting US Rep. Nick Rahall, an Obama supporter, in the south of the state.