Thursday, January 11, 2007

PAT's poor decisions and bad planning

Pittsburgh PA - A Pittsburgh Post Gazette story tells of more woes at the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT). This time it involves poor decisions and bad planning that are going to hurt PAT for decades to come.

One such poor decision and bad planning move was the rebuilding of the old Wabash Tunnel which opened to traffic in late December of 2004. This tunnel, originally purchased by PAT in the 1960's for the failed Skybus project, was remade in the new century into a high occupancy vehicle lane to help with traffic problems in the South Hills area.

The problem? Hardly anyone uses it and PAT has no buses in the area to use it either. The tunnel is in a very poor location for it's intended purpose.

PAT is stuck paying over half a million dollars a year just to run and maintain the tunnel. The amount was higher until they contracted out the services to a private company to do it for them.

An attempt at passing the white elephant off onto the State, where it really belongs, brought a response from the Federal Transit Administration that PAT would have to give back at least $20 million dollars immediately to the FTA.

Since the tunnel was abandoned by the Wabash Railroad in 1946 and the bridge across the river dismantled, it has been called the tunnel to nowhere by many. This still holds true today even though you can now travel through it.

Poor planning and decision making at PAT forced this white elephant to feed off the much needed operating funds for the cash strapped transit system. It most likely will remain feeding off of PAT since PAT can't afford to return the Federal money used to rebuild the tunnel for vehicular traffic. It should have just remained fenced off or if such a program as an HOV lane really needed to be done, let PennDOT do it and take responsibility like should have been done from the start.

Another case of poor planning and poor decision making holds true with another white elephant project, the North Shore Connector light rail transit line. This line is not needed but it's too late to stop it. It will feed off of PAT's cash strapped coffers at the expense of transit service elsewhere in the Pittsburgh area.

To cancel the project now will mean returning 80% of the Federal money and at least $30 million in claims from contractors. Although PAT thinks it can weasel out of repaying part of the 80% since it was spent on planning, they still will be returning millions immediately if the project is cancelled.

Another no win situation simply because nobody in the prior administration used a single brain cell to consider the simple fact that they could not afford to operate the project they so desperately had to have.

What should be done:

While it won't help the financial matters, I really believe that those responsible for the mess PAT is in currently should be investigated in a criminal probe. The poor state that the transit system is currently in is the direct result of the prior administration of PAT and the PAT Board of Directors who ultimately approved these schemes to waste taxpayer dollars and cripple the transit system. The complete mismanagement of PAT has cost hundreds of millions of dollars and the end result is that the taxpayers and ridership now have to suffer for the actions of a handful of people and it's only going to continue to get worse.

If such actions that were done by the prior PAT administration and the Board of Directors were done by a private corporation, we'd see the key executives and board members being frog marched to court to be tried on a variety of counts that would be filed against them.

As this is a holier than thou public agency, no one will be held accountable for it even though there were hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted in poor planning and poor decision making. All that will happen is that the riders and taxpayers will be punished through a system wide hack and slash of service and higher taxes while those that caused the problems get to sit back and laugh.

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