Watch this video to discover a hidden Pittsburgh gem, The Run—and learn about two serious threats it faces. Our neighborhood needs flood relief, not a new roadway running through it and the neighboring public park. 8-10 million roadway dollars are better spent on infrastructure needs left unaddressed for decades in Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Read the alternative plan and sign the petition!
The adjoining communities of Hazelwood and The Run share more than a ZIP code: They are the two neighborhoods most directly affected by the Hazelwood Green development and its most controversial feature, the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) shuttle road through Schenley Park.
Hazelwood Green owner Almono Partners commissioned the road, funded with $23 million of Pittsburgh’s capital budget, primarily to link its development to university campuses in Oakland—but says its shuttles will improve mobility for Hazelwood residents. (Almono Partners has voiced no interest in improving anything for Run residents, except perhaps their odds of moving away.)
Getting in and out of Hazelwood can be a major problem, partly because the three streets that serve as entrance/exit points suffer from decades of neglect. The stretch of Irvine Street between Greenfield Avenue and Hazelwood Avenue is a prime example. It contains just about every dangerous condition imaginable for pedestrians, cyclists, and even motorists. A fatal car crash in January 2019 involved frozen seepage from the hill above the east side of the road. This same water helps create year-round hazards on City-owned sidewalks that have disintegrated beside speeding traffic. Vehicles often block other sections of the sidewalk, forcing travelers into the road.
Only the bravest/most desperate walkers and bikers consider Irvine Street an option—and for people using wheelchairs or pushing strollers, it’s not an option at all. Nor is the long way around through Hazelwood Green accessible to them because it involves navigating steps or crossing Second Avenue.
Irvine Street offers the most direct connection between Hazelwood and The Run. The one-mile distance would be easy to cross if not for the serious risks involved. Residents of Hazelwood could safely access Schenley Park without a car. And Run residents would find it much simpler to reach their nearest post office, library, and shops in Hazelwood.
Fixing this dangerous stretch of sidewalk has been identified as a priority by everyone involved. The Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan lists sidewalk construction and improvements as a key strategy to give residents and visitors access to Hazelwood. Our Money. Our Solutions., a community-driven alternative to the MOC, calls for an “Irvine/Second Avenue sidewalk audit and replacement/install to ensure ADA-compliant width and curb cuts, from Greenfield Ave. through the Hazelwood business district.”
Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), which is responsible for building the MOC, listed “2nd Avenue sidewalk” as a component of the MOC project in a January 2020 memo to City Council. DOMI committed $700,000 to the sidewalk (to be matched by a potential grant from the state of Pennsylvania). The memo marked the first time DOMI publicly identified certain components (including the sidewalk) as part of the project and broke down costs.
However, in DOMI’s latest budget presented at their October public meetings concerning the MOC, the sidewalk funding has disappeared. It’s unclear whether DOMI will receive the state grant they say they applied for.
Compare the ill-defined, will-o’-the-wisp accounting of the Irvine Street sidewalk funding to the single-minded focus with which the MOC has been pushed over the past five years. Even in the midst of a pandemic that has left Pittsburgh with a $100+ million budget shortfall, the MOC is the city’s single largest transportation corridor investment.
Some say budgets are moral documents. At the very least, Pittsburgh’s budget represents a statement of its priorities. Building a road through a public park for private shuttles in no way reflects the priorities of Pittsburghers, who are being asked to fund this project.
Irvine Street/Second Avenue is only one glaring example of community needs unmet in favor of funding the MOC. As members of these communities, we still have a chance to come together and advocate for the money to go toward improvements we’ve been requesting for years.
It’s high time for City Controller Michael Lamb to audit the $14.5 million already budgeted to the MOC in 2018 and 2019. Please join us in encouraging him to do so by calling 412-255-2054 or emailing City_Controller@pittsburghpa.gov.
Furthermore, City Council must demand a line-item listing of the additional $4.15 million requested for 2021 to make sure these funds are directed first to fixing existing infrastructure—rather than creating new infrastructure of questionable value to existing communities. Our public money should prioritize solutions to our problems, not developers’ wishes.
As promised, we are gathering statements from DOMI’s public meeting concerning the proposed road through Schenley Park. Below you’ll find quotes from residents of affected communities, activists, transit advocates, university students, and others—along with links to their full statements. We’ve also included those who didn’t get a chance to speak or could not attend the meeting. If you fall into any of these categories and would like us to publish your statement here, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“No matter what you would offer in money for my business, it wouldn’t be enough to start over somewhere else.” —Dana Provenzano, Zano’s Pub
Read more »
“Who’s going to really benefit if the capacity is 1,000 riders a day—if that’s the ultimate capacity and you’re going to displace 20,000 cars a day? The math does not figure…When I say this, I say this as an 81-year resident of Hazelwood. I get calls every day from gentrifiers who want to buy my property.”
—Homer Craig, Hazelwood
Read more »
“During this fight, we have won some major improvements to the City’s original plan. These include a flood mitigation project in Four Mile Run, park enhancements, and bike and pedestrian improvements—none of which were part of the original concept. We also won weekend service on the 93 bus starting next month—connecting residents of Hazelwood and Greenfield to Oakland, Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield, and Lawrenceville—actually improving mobility for our communities while the City and DOMI have done nothing but waste millions in consulting and design fees.” —Barb Warwick, The Run
Read more »
“Our city is facing a massive budget shortfall and unless you live in Donald Trump’s fantasy world, you know it’s likely to get worse. But despite the clear need to redirect a vastly reduced budget to human needs, my city insists on spending almost $20 million on a boondoggle that no community favors.”
—Mel Packer, Point Breeze
Read more »
“The project does not benefit the people who live here and is a blatant attempt to destroy our community and give the land to universities and developers.” —Susan Cohen, The Run
Read more »
“If I’m wrong and this is a mass transportation project, well, you guys should fund the Our Money, Our Solutions plan instead because it does everything that this could hope to accomplish—better, faster, cheaper and without any of the associated harms.” —Laura Chu Wiens, Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Read more »
“Every justification put forth for building the road has been proven false. Proponents are now at a loss for any argument other than, ‘We have to build it because we’ve been secretly planning this for years!'”
—Ray Gerard, Lower Greenfield
Read more »
“The City recognizes the seriousness of Climate Change, does not dispute the science behind these issues, yet continues to adhere to the model of development that is driving these issues. The Climate Action Plan states unequivocally, ‘HALT the conversion of forest canopy to development’ and such a conversion is exactly what is being proposed here.”
—Matt Peters, Hazelwood
Read more »
“These are not the actions of people with good intentions. If the MOC benefited those who live in the communities it affects, Mayor Peduto’s administration would not need to resort to duplicity and steamrolling.”
—Ziggy Edwards, The Run
Read more »
Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility & Infrastructure (DOMI) hoped its October 21 public meeting on the Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC), the first in almost a year, would give citizens one final chance to feel useful arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But they ran out of deck chairs: The virtual Zoom meeting quickly surpassed its original 100-participant limit and blocked many from joining. After about 20 minutes, meeting organizers solved the problem by expanding capacity to 200 and attendance nearly topped that limit as well.
For the first time, a representative of Almono Limited Partnership (owners of the Hazelwood Green development) was on hand to answer questions from the public. Earlier in the week, Almono unveiled their plan to operate shuttles on the proposed road that uses Schenley Park to connect Hazelwood Green with the universities in Oakland.
Pittsburgh City Council member Corey O’Connor, who represents the affected communities of Hazelwood and Greenfield, was frustrated by the presentation. “We are finally getting answers to some of our questions, which I think is the biggest joke of all time because we’ve been waiting six years for them,” he said.
Councilman O’Connor said the frustration “dates back to the first meeting when we showed up and we had five squiggly lines [representing potential routes for the shuttles] going different ways and we knew we were only going to use one line [the route through Schenley Park] at the beginning, and that was it.”
Alternatives to the MOC plan exist, although the City has failed to give them meaningful consideration.
Our Money. Our Solutions. is a “holistic mobility package” created by residents, community organizations, and others in the affected neighborhoods in cooperation with Pittsburghers for Public Transit. Run resident Barb Warwick said the plan “would provide our communities with faster, more effective, and more affordable bus service to many more locations than just Oakland.”
Richard Feder, an adjunct professor of transportation engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, spoke on behalf the Hazelwood BRT project proposal, which resulted from the 2020 Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission planning study of the State Route 885 and Second Avenue corridor.
“Even worse,” Councilman O’Connor continued, “and this is for my residents in The Run—and I hope this is not true, but the $41 million that we were promised for [the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project] has now turned into 16 million…If it doesn’t stop the flooding problem and protect people, then it’s a bigger farce than it was at the beginning.”
According to PWSA’s own presentation from June 2020, the number is closer to $14 million. In their September 2020 presentation, PWSA tried to cover their tracks by adding costly items they remembered over the summer.
Councilman O’Connor’s constituents responded in the chat with resounding support of his remarks.
David Caliguiri, the Almono consultant in attendance, characterized the proposed shuttle as “just one part” of “a suite of enhanced transit options.”
Jonah McAllister-Erickson of Pittsburghers for Public Transit responded in a comment, “The constant in the many many iterations [of the MOC plan] has been the shuttle. The idea that this isn’t about the shuttle is laughable. It is and has always been about some sort of shuttle.”
DOMI director Karina Ricks admitted the shuttle component is key because it aims to spur development at Hazelwood Green.
Many MOC opponents expressed concern about the lack of plans in place to protect renters in Hazelwood and Greenfield from the increased housing costs that such large-scale development projects always bring.
Run resident Ziggy Edwards said the City has a long history of deceptive actions related to the MOC project, and that several of her neighbors near the Swinburne Bridge recently received letters from DOMI citing eminent domain.
Ricks responded, “It is a letter written by a lawyer and, unfortunately, they do reference the right of eminent domain. The City has absolutely no intention to take properties [as part of the bridge construction]. There is a possibility there might be some slivers that will be needed to create new footings for the bridge.”
“She just referred to our neighborhood homes and properties as ‘slivers,’” commented Run resident Justin Macey. “These are our HOMES.”
Hazelwood Initiative director Sonia Tilghman discussed foundation-supported programs in Hazelwood that have allowed her organization to buy 63 occupied units and keep them affordable.
“My concern generally,” said Tilghman, “is that as transportation and access improves to the [Hazelwood] neighborhood—which it absolutely has to—whether that’s through [the MOC project] or through the additional 75 or the 93 [bus lines], we will continue to feel gentrification pressures. And it’s not a fight that we can do alone, so we need additional affordable housing like Gladstone School—we have a partner in that. All of those units will be [for people with incomes] 60% or below AMI [area median income]—it’s not 60-80% where you could find a decent unit without the subsidy. So we’re working on that.”
No organizations or programs exist to provide similar protection to residents in The Run, who would experience the most direct and profound disruptions to their community from the MOC plan.
Earl Danielson commented, “I’ve sat here and listened to a lot of rhetoric … I understand the resistance and the ‘not in my back yard’ mentality of the Run residents but I just wanted to voice my opinion as a property owner in Hazelwood that, properly implemented, the corridor and the connector could be a huge net plus and address many of the issues on the dearth of employment opportunities and shopping and a lot of the other issues that have been hung on Hazelwood since the late ’80s.”
Hazelwood resident Dylan Rooke responded to Danielson in the chat, “@earl do you live in Hazelwood, or just own 7 investment properties as DANIELSON FAMILY PARTNERSHIP LLLP? gentrification benefits investment property holders against residents, especially renters.”
Moderator Ivette Mongalo-Winston, owner of Mongalo-Winston Consulting LLC, chimed in on the chat, “Please keep this dialogue respectful- re: NIMBY discussion- this is not a personal issue.”
One might wish Mongalo-Winston had been referring to Danielson’s characterization of Run residents as NIMBYs rather than Rooke’s subsequent comment, but this was not the case. Although the comment contained information that reflected poorly on Danielson’s position, it was truthful and entirely relevant. Many MOC opponents went out of their way to display civility.
Hazelwood resident Eric Williams commented, “@Earl. I disagree with you, but I respect you for representing the other side.”
A record of the meeting is available on the MOC (renamed the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project) website. The partial video begins after the Zoom limit issue had been addressed. Names of foundation and project representatives on the call were not repeated so they are not part of the record. The complete chat transcript includes discussion of the technical difficulties during the first presentation.
Numerous residents, transit advocates, and university students spoke in opposition to the shuttle road. We will devote a separate post to their statements, as well as statements from those who did not get a chance to speak.
On October 21, 2020, Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) will hold what they say is the final public meeting on “phase 1” of their Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) plan. The project is so controversial, DOMI renamed it the Mon-Oakland Mobility Project—its third name in five years.
In slide 5 of their presentation for this virtual meeting, DOMI lists “Citywide Mobility Goals & Objectives.” When you consider these goals next to the MOC, which calls for building a road through Schenley Park to run 6- to 9-passenger shuttles at 15 mph between the Hazelwood Green development and Oakland university campuses, the controversy becomes clear.
No one dies or is seriously injured traveling on city streets
The Junction Hollow and Eliza Furnace trails together offer pedestrians and cyclists the only car-free route between Oakland, Downtown, and the South Side. The MOC eliminates this safe connection by putting motorized shuttles on Junction Hollow Trail—steps away from a playing field used by youth sports groups and others from around the city. On September 17, 2020, a UPMC shuttle ran over and killed a female pedestrian who was crossing an Oakland street.
Every household can access fresh fruits and vegetables within 20 minutes travel of home, without needing a private automobile
MOC’s planned shuttles run between Hazelwood and Oakland, neither of which has a grocery store. Both neighborhoods do have small, family-run shops that sell produce—Dylamato’s in Hazelwood and Groceria Merante in Oakland. But neither of those is on the shuttle route.
No household must spend more than 45% of income on basic housing + essential transportation
Major problems here. There is no guarantee that the cost of riding the privately-operated MOC shuttles will be affordable to low-income residents in the long term. The cost of running the shuttle service, which is designed for fewer than 1,000 daily riders, is extremely high. Yet successful development of Hazelwood Green will outgrow the MOC almost as soon as the road is built. Hazelwood Green expects 20,413 daily trips to their development by 2028. Most distressing of all, no plan is in place to protect renters in Hazelwood and Greenfield from the increased housing costs that such large-scale development projects always bring.
Walking, rolling, or biking is the most enjoyable choice for short distance trips
We rely more than ever on our public parks for health and recreation, but it seems even these crucial green spaces are not safe from developers. Cyclists who use the existing trail consider the MOC a degradation of the trail because they will be forced to share that space with shuttles. Building a new road that is primarily for shuttles through Schenley Park certainly does not improve safety or enjoyment for the cyclists the city says it wants to encourage.
Streets and public rights of way reflect the values of our City and community
If you’ve read this far, you can decide for yourself how the MOC stacks up against this “mobility goal.” Does the MOC reflect your values? City officials want to spend $23 million of our taxes on this project whether we like it or not. And—since the MOC is the single biggest transportation corridor investment the City of Pittsburgh is contributing to—they are making a statement that it’s our biggest transportation priority.
Residents of affected communities created an alternative plan called Our Money, Our Solutions (OMOS) that does a much better job of connecting more people to more jobs, grocery stores, healthcare, and amenities—all for significantly less money. The community-driven plan has led to weekend service on the 93 bus line and forced DOMI to claim that key components of OMOS were always part of the MOC plan. But MOC’s aim has not changed: Build a road through Schenley Park to accommodate shuttles that serve the universities and Hazelwood Green development.
The MOC reflects someone’s values, and those values are attached to dollar signs for a few at the expense of many. Our public representatives are lifting the goals of private universities, foundations, and developers above our needs.
The answer may not surprise you
Per usual, a number of disturbing revelations floated to the surface at PWSA’s September 15 public meeting about the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project. Highlights include:
- The plan calls for removing 900 trees from the Junction Hollow/Panther Hollow section of Schenley Park, according to Tim Nuttle of Civil & Environmental Consultants (CEC). Most of the trees slated for removal, Mr. Nuttle said, are located at the north end of Schenley Park in the Panther Hollow neighborhood. Presumably, this total does not include trees that would be cut down by the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) road through Schenley Park.
- Part of the project attempts to address the large amounts of runoff from the Parkway East overpass that cuts through The Run, but despite talks between PWSA and PennDOT there is currently no plan for PennDOT to share any of the costs.
- The MOC and the foot path have both been moved since the previous PWSA meeting on June 18 of this year. PWSA representatives said they heard that people didn’t want the walking trail right next to the MOC, which is designed to accommodate motorized shuttles between Hazelwood Green and the university campuses in Oakland. The foot path, in the latest PWSA presentation, has been moved to the other side of the soccer field. The MOC has also changed course, but in the presentation a photo covered a critical turn in its path. Before reaching the southern entrance to Schenley Park, where they diverge at the soccer field, the two paths are still side by side. Twitter user @Bram_R recalled, “When [residents] asked about the safety of that, were told there’d be ‘a piece of wood or something’ separating [the MOC and foot path].”
- PWSA has spent months telling concerned residents that no model of the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project exists that excludes the MOC. But during this most recent meeting, PWSA representatives divulged that such a model does exist. According to this new narrative, the MOC was added to the stormwater models after initial public meetings where residents expressed concerns about how a new asphalt road (and associated removal of trees) would affect the project’s ability to address the flooding issue in The Run.
MOC opponents contend that the MOC—a development project designed to lure corporations to Hazelwood Green—should not take precedence over the stormwater project. The core project in Schenley Park has long been considered “technically challenging” even without incorporating a new road.
PWSA continues to withhold the MOC-free model from residents, and did not use it in their chart where they showed a net benefit in flood control. The presentation implied that this positive result is because of MOC, rather than despite MOC. Without an MOC-free model, the road’s true impact on flood control cannot be measured.
- Discussion of “BMPs” (best management practices) revealed that the BMPs in question were “swales,” or ditches, to hold runoff from the MOC road. These deep ditches are placed directly next to the youth soccer field.
- After the June PWSA board meeting, PWSA executive director Will Pickering responded to resident concerns over undue influence over PWSA by Mayor William Peduto and the private interests that define his administration’s agenda. A resident had stated that all except one board member were nominated directly by Mayor Peduto. Mr. Pickering clarified via email, “Ms. [Margaret] Lanier’s initial term on the PWSA Board was prior to Mayor Peduto’s term(s) as Mayor, but all appointments to the PWSA board are nominated by the Mayor and approved by Council. Ms. Lanier’s most recent nomination was indeed put forward by Mayor Peduto.”
At the September stormwater project meeting, PWSA Chief of Program Management Alex Sciulli elaborated that a committee formed by Mayor Peduto chose the latest round of PWSA board nominations. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the committee is “chaired by Mark Nordenberg, University of Pittsburgh chancellor emeritus and chair of the Institute of Politics. The other members…include Community College of Allegheny County President Quintin Bullock, former Regional Asset District Executive Director David Donahoe, Women for a Healthy Environment Executive Director Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis and Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant.”
The Heinz Endowments is one of three foundations that comprise Almono Limited Partnership, which owns the vast majority of the Hazelwood Green site—the development of which MOC is intended to bolster.
Mayor Peduto, a longtime proponent of MOC, faces an estimated $100 million budget shortfall this year because of COVID-19. The City’s capital budget includes $23 million for MOC over the next few years—$9 million for 2021 alone. Approximately $2 million has already been spent on “community outreach”—marketing efforts to convince residents of affected communities they should abandon efforts to stop the road from being built.
Mayor Peduto’s chief of staff, Dan Gilman, tweeted on September 15: “Today, City Council approved the Mayor’s 3 appointees to the @pgh2o board. These three women – BJ Leber, Rosamaria Cristello, and Dr. Audrey Murrell are going to be tremendous leaders in helping PWSA continue to modernize and provide a safe and reliable water system.”
When @Bram_R commented that “it’s going around that these 3 new board members came off a list given to the Mayor by Pitt & CMU, and that they’re ‘their’ appointees. W Almono nearby as well, [residents] have a lot of concerns that their neighborhood is being slated for gentrification,” Mr. Gilman responded, “This is completely untrue. The names came from suggestions by the PWSA Board Nominating Committee that was publicly announced and part of the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Panel.”
The panel Mr. Gilman mentioned includes Jared Cohon, former president of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
Twitter user @BarbWarwick2 replied to Mr. Gilman with background on the three new board members: “Looks like Ms. Cristello works at CMU and Dr. Murrell at Pitt. Ms. Leber is CEO at adagio health, which is associated with UPMC. All very accomplished women indeed, but the ‘eds and meds’ comment is not wrong. PWSA board could use at least one or two resident advocates, no?”
Asked why the PWSA’s June presentation accounted for only $14 million of the $40 million project budget, PWSA acting senior manager of public affairs Rebecca Zito responded in an email, “The remaining funding can go towards future projects in the upper portions of the watershed, provide opportunities to collaborate with the universities and other community organizations on future stormwater projects, or revisit some of the original green infrastructure projects planned for Panther Hollow Stream and Phipps Run.” (emphasis added)
After decades of steadily worsening floods in The Run and avowals from city officials that they lacked funds to fix it, residents have every right to demand that the $40 million secured for the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project addresses their dire public safety need rather than accommodating a project to benefit The Heinz Endowments, the University of Pittsburgh, CMU, and a handful of other private entities. Yet these very entities have been tasked with overseeing the PWSA and its execution of the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project.
You can view the PWSA’s June 18 presentation on their website, and PWSA has promised to post a recording of the September 15 meeting and accompanying presentation soon.
On June 18, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) held a Zoom meeting to discuss the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project and its revised schedule. A May 18 email from the PWSA stated in part, “Additional modeling and design effort have caused a delay to the overall project construction schedule. We originally anticipated starting construction this fall, but it is now anticipated to begin in 2021.”
Chief of Program Management Alex Scuilli began the meeting by acknowledging that “people are waiting for stormwater relief.” He assured attendees, “We think we have the solution [and can provide] a level of storm protection that will be very good for residents.”
However, further discussion of the updated model revealed an apparent scaling back of protection: According to slide 17 of PWSA’s June 2020 presentation, “Designing for a 10-year event was determined to be a cost-effective solution for reduced flood risk.” Notes from a February 22, 2019, meeting at the mayor’s office (obtained via Right-to-Know request) recorded Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff Dan Gilman “wonder[ing] if instead of a 25-year storm, which is what current development designs for, should we be designing for a larger storm event.”
PWSA’s presentation calls out two previous floods in The Run: one 25-year event in 2011 and one 75-year event in 2009. It does not mention other events, such as a 2019 flood that included higher elevations in the neighborhood and a 2016 flood that trapped a resident and his son on the roof of their car.
Run residents have asked the PWSA Board to create a model for the Four Mile Run Stormwater Improvement project that excludes the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) road through Schenley Park. MOC opponents contend that the MOC—a development project designed to lure corporations to Hazelwood Green—should not take precedence over the stormwater project. The core project in Schenley Park has long been considered “technically challenging” even without incorporating a new road.
Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) director Karina Ricks commented, “We firmly support [PWSA’s] decision to take the time needed to ensure the massive stormwater investment we are making is the right one to best address the stormwater impacts that have affected The Run for so many years. The Mon-Oakland project will proceed concurrent with the PWSA green infrastructure project, thus our timeline is adjusted accordingly as well.”
Asked whether the PWSA has created a model without MOC or intends to do so, PWSA acting senior manager of public affairs Rebecca Zito responded, “The mobility project is a planned project and our model has taken into consideration that it would be constructed. Not including it would set false expectations and provide an unrealistic assessment for advancing the stormwater project. We appreciate that residents from the Run took the time to address the Board in March about this project. The Board heard your request to commission a model for the stormwater project without the mobility corridor project, unfortunately, we were not directed to do so.”
Five of PWSA’s six current board members were nominated by Mayor Peduto, a longtime proponent of MOC who faces an estimated $150+ million budget shortfall this year because of COVID-19. In contrast to PWSA’s stormwater project, which addresses a clear public safety issue and will be financed by the PWSA itself, the City-funded MOC project demonstrably fails to benefit residents in the neighborhoods it affects. By all appearances, Mr. Peduto’s priorities are the only reason the PWSA would view cancelation of the MOC as “an unrealistic assessment.”
On March 27, 2020, the Board of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) convened its monthly board meeting via telephone conference line. The Board received comments from several residents of The Run, the neighborhood most directly affected by the PWSA’s 4-Mile Run Stormwater Improvement Plan. They asked the Board to create a model for the project that excludes the controversial Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) road through Schenley Park.
PWSA Chief of Program Management Alex Scuilli has stated on the record that no such models currently exist. MOC opponents have long contended that the MOC—a development project designed to lure corporations to Hazelwood Green—should not take precedence over the stormwater project, which addresses severe flooding in The Run as well as an EPA mandate to separate stormwater from sewage.
Despite its importance to public safety, the stormwater project is not expected to fix the flooding but only lessen it. Right-to-Know documents show Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff Dan Gilman admonishing the PWSA to “improve the messaging on this issue” to adjust residents’ expectations. The vast majority of runoff that floods The Run comes from Greenfield—not Schenley Park, where funding for the stormwater project has been directed. Yet the project was originally pitched to residents as a way to address the flooding issue. The “messaging” changed in early 2019—well into the engineering process. The core project in Schenley Park has long been considered “technically challenging” even without incorporating a new road.
It seems likely the $41 million stormwater project could be more effective if it weren’t required to accommodate the MOC. Multiple experts have told residents of affected neighborhoods that the MOC could hinder flood control. Recently, Pittsburghers for Public Transit worked with analysts to complete a cost-benefit study of expanded public transit versus MOC shuttles in affected neighborhoods—but some costs of the MOC fall outside the scope of that study, including harm to the stormwater project’s effectiveness and to Schenley Park itself. These costs must be examined at least as carefully as the costs of inefficient shuttle service.
There is a clear public need for the PWSA’s stormwater project, and a clear lack of need for the MOC. The MOC benefits developers, not residents, and exemplifies the “non-essential construction” Governor Wolf has halted during the COVID-19 crisis. It is more prudent than ever to develop alternative plans.
And Some Answers Raise More Questions
Since 2018, residents of Four Mile Run (The Run) have filed several Right To Know requests with the City of Pittsburgh regarding the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector (MOC) project. City government eventually gave residents documents that were inadequate in fulfilling the RTK requests. Missing information includes up-to-date engineering documents and large portions of City departments’ correspondence with all private partners in the project. In the city’s response to the requests, they stated that they are not required to share any information, but would do so selectively. Furthermore, they added, “We are prohibited from forwarding records that reflect the attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product privilege.”
But a section of the PA office of Open Records Right–to-Know Law states:
Section 708 of the RTKL places the burden of proof on the public body to demonstrate that a record is exempt. In pertinent part, Section 708(a) states: “The burden of proving that a record of a Commonwealth agency or local agency is exempt from public access shall be on the Commonwealth agency or local agency receiving a request by a preponderance of the evidence.” Preponderance of the evidence has been defined as “such proof as leads the fact-finder … to find that the existence of a contested fact is more probable than its nonexistence.”
The City’s position raises the question: Who is the attorney and who is the client in this case? This is the very same claim that city government made while conducting its infamous secret Amazon deal. The details of that plan, now available after Amazon turned down the bid, reveal the reasons for the secrecy. Pittsburgh promised the world’s richest man one of the most generous corporate welfare giveaways of land and taxpayer money of any city in the U.S. Those promises included the MOC.
At the suggestion of the City of Pittsburgh, residents also filed RTK requests with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), the agency tasked with constructing the Four Mile Run Watershed Plan. The scope of this crucial and technically challenging project was to include fixing The Run’s worsening chronic flooding. But the City is forcing the merger of the MOC with PWSA’s plan. PWSA failed to respond to a resident appeal and the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg ordered PWSA to hand over all documents requested. Those documents contained crucial information including:
- Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) Director Karina Ricks stating that the MOC is not a sufficient transportation solution and that other routes would have to be added. (The same alternative routes that residents proposed instead of the present route that would permanently degrade two communities and Schenley Park).
- A March 2019 engineering document that shows the permanent loss of approximately 7 acres of tree canopy if the MOC is constructed.
- Don Smith of RIDC saying, “Let’s get an imperfect connector road there now and more perfect long-term solution implemented later.”
- A Heinz Endowments representative saying “the connector road to Oakland is incredibly important. Developers have indicated their interest in the Almono site is contingent on the road being constructed.” (In other words, the roadway is a sign-on condition for potential HG developers/tenants, rather than a necessity that serves the affected communities.)
- Regarding the watershed project’s aim to fix The Run’s annual severe flooding problems, Alex Sciulli of PWSA states that “more cost-effective options may be to change the floodplain and purchase the affected properties.” (City officials have repeatedly stated they have no plans to attempt to acquire resident properties.)
- Mayor Chief of Staff Dan Gillman referring to the project as a “clusterf@$k.”
There is more evidence of non-transparency and duplicity by city government regarding the MOC project. Throughout the process, residents have demanded they be informed of what DOMI was planning and when DOMI would be filing grant proposals or other requests for funding. DOMI has refused to do so. They applied for a 1 million dollar grant for the MOC through the Southwestern PA Commission in 2018—while DOMI was holding a series of public meetings about the project. The money was approved, but DOMI failed to notify residents beforehand and afterward. Only dogged research and policing of the project by opponents flushed out the information.
Residents more recently received another document: a 2018 request from DOMI to the City Budget office for funding. That document is mostly blank, but DOMI was nonetheless given 9 million dollars of taxpayer money. One section of the document DOMI did fill out was the section reading: Please identify the source of external funding and how the project adheres to the funding source’s rules and regulations. “Demonstrated support of the public” was a question within that section. DOMI’s response: Depends on which community!
What else are city officials hiding and why? Why are they so determined to bulldoze through two vibrant neighborhoods and Schenley Park when they admit their proposed shuttle road is not a transportation solution and does not serve the affected communities? University expansion through a slow-motion land grab could be the answer.
Opponents of the MOC recognize this issue as much bigger than any individual neighborhood. Our growing coalition of residents, park protectors, neighborhood organizations and other concerned citizens is committed to protecting Pittsburgh’s communities from erasure.
(This article was previously published on February 1, 2020 in the Hazelwood Homepage)
This January 7 memorandum from Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) director Karina Ricks to Pittsburgh City Council shows a sea change in the battle for (as the memo puts it) “COMMUNITY GENERATED TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS.”
For the first time, DOMI has named specific components of the Mon-Oakland Connector project and attached dollar amounts to some of those components. Whether or not the information proves trustworthy, Pittsburghers can count its emergence as a win for accountability. Previously, DOMI refused to provide these details even in public meetings. Such details existed in a nebulous “magic bag” that constantly morphed, defying scrutiny.
The memo shows DOMI responding to our call for public infrastructure improvements listed in the Our Money, Our Solutions plan. Reluctantly—and perhaps dishonestly—but directly, and point by point. Thanks, DOMI!
Stay tuned as the fact-checkers get to work. If you want to contribute data or effort, please leave a comment on this post or email us.
On October 26, 2019, Junction Coalition received a response from DOMI director Karina Ricks to our open letter. In our letter, we asked questions compiled from residents of The Run—one of the neighborhoods in the path of the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector. After introductory comments, Ms. Ricks responded to the questions one by one. Below is the full, unaltered text we received. We formatted the response section with Ms. Ricks’ responses below each original question, along with our reply to each response.
Dear Junction Coalition,
Thank you for your message and providing an opportunity to respond and provide greater clarity around the Mon-Oakland and Four Mile Run project.
First of all, safety and health are the overarching concerns of this and any Administration. Project partners including the URA, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, PWSA and multiple City Departments have been working for years to effectively address the stormwater issues that impact the Four Mile Run portion of Greenfield.
Concurrently, economic regeneration in Pittsburgh is also a goal in order to both provide economic opportunity to our residents and put the City back on solid financial footing in order to have the resources to meet our many critical needs and public services. The Administration is committed to ensuring that this regeneration is forward-looking, promoting transit-oriented development and other sustainable mobility choices and avoiding the auto orientation and associated impacts of the past generation.
The Mon-Oakland/Four Mile Run project does both – it addresses the critical and threatening stormwater impacts and provides an opportunity for sustainable development and job growth in a community that very much needs both.
The attachment you sent – a URA grant application – emphasizes the stormwater project, seeking additional resources for design of stormwater mitigations, while concurrently recognizing the need for improved mobility and access. There is nothing in the grant to indicate that stormwater solutions are precluded by or subordinated to improved mobility. Clearly, both can be achieved.
1. We’ve been told that the watershed project and the roadway project are separate yet being done “in tandem.” That level of coordination requires detailed plans. When will you share full details so that resident-approved independent experts can evaluate them before construction begins?
2. At the January 2018 public meeting, Michael Baker Corporation presented 6 possible routes (including 5 offered by residents). [DOMI director Karina Ricks] expressed a preference for the Swinburne route but said it was not viable because of the landslides on Swinburne. Why is Swinburne unviable for smaller lighter AVs, yet currently open to at-times bumper-to-bumper traffic including cars, trucks, UPMC shuttles, emergency vehicles, and school buses?
3. The newest map shows the proposed roadway running right along the bottom of Swinburne, which has experienced landslides in the past and present, and which DOMI designated “unviable” as a route. What is the true reason you are so attached to the route through Schenley Park? Why do the private partners want this land so badly?
4. According to sources, there is a discussion happening behind the scenes about trying to buy out residents who live along Four Mile Run/Boundary streets—whose basements always flood when there is heavy rain. Is it true that you are going to attempt to buy or force those folks out through those or other means?
5. In 2015, public officials stated to the press that the city would go to court to overturn Mary Schenley’s deed in order to seize the publicly owned and protected property of Schenley Park. Are you still planning on going to court to force that outcome?
6. At the September 2018 meeting, PWSA head Robert Weimar stated, “We only have one chance to get this right” regarding the storm-water plan’s success. We agree, and expect access to detailed plans so that an independent, resident-approved expert can evaluate them before construction begins. When will you provide those plans?
7. Will you provide a list of all “project partners” with their contact information—email addresses and phone numbers?
8. Multiple experts have told residents that forcing the roadway onto the watershed plan will compromise flood control. A URA document titled “Project Narrative for Heinz Endowment” states, “Measure of success: We will produce several construction alternatives … and couple them with the potential design options that will not preclude any major transportation options under discussion.” In plainer language, this paragraph says that a successful flood control plan won’t interfere with the proposed roadway—in other words, the road takes precedence. This directly contradicts repeated public statements made by you [K Ricks], PWSA, and other officials. Given the true priorities behind both projects, what guarantees can residents expect regarding the success of the watershed improvement plan? When will a community benefits agreement with those guarantees be enacted?
9. How was it determined that the route through two neighborhoods and Schenley Park is the only viable route? Swinburne would have to be stabilized to prevent it from collapsing onto the proposed roadway. So why spend an additional tens of millions of dollars to build a new road instead of using Swinburne as the route?
10. On April 18, some residents of The Run, along with Pittsburghers for Public Transit and the Penn Plaza Support and Action Coalition, sent Mayor Peduto an open letter. We made specific, actionable demands to actually include the public in this so-called public process concerning the Mon-Oakland Connector—things like announcing the meetings at least 14 days in advance, revealing the total amount of public funds spent so far, and formatting the meetings so that all attendees can hear all the questions and answers. When will we receive a formal response, and why are you continuing to take up most of these meetings with presentations and breakout sessions?
11. By choosing AV, you are eliminating jobs, thus reducing the tax base. How will the City make up for this loss of revenue and pay for basic services like roads, bridges, infrastructure, etc.? Will robots pay taxes?
12. The Planning Commission approved a last-minute tripling of residential density in the Hazelwood Green plan over objections by the Greenfield Community Association and the Run Resident Action Team. Karina Ricks admitted in 2017 that if Amazon accepted Pittsburgh’s bid, the Mon-Oakland Connector would be inadequate for the increased number of users. Why are you investing public money into a roadway that is already obsolete before it’s even built?
13. Isn’t it a conflict of interest that some of the people involved in decision making about the roadway and storm-water projects stand to profit from developing Hazelwood Green?
14. We have the agenda from a 2000 “community outreach project” meeting titled “The New Junction Hollow Vision.” The agenda advocates for a short, intense “charette” process—that means a meeting of all stakeholders where conflicts are worked out. But the meeting involved only residents of Oakland and the Oakland Community Council. Hazelwood Initiative is mentioned but not Panther Hollow or The Run—the neighborhoods that are actually located in Junction Hollow, the communities that would be affected most. Do the Oakland organizers of this meeting still think Junction Hollow belongs to them, and that they can decide its future? Why would they not include the communities of Panther Hollow and The Run?
15. A URA document titled “Exhibit 1” states, “The implementation of the Oakland Transit Connector model can address a majority of these barriers and will open the opportunities for continued economic growth across Oakland and into adjoining communities.” The barriers: People already live here. There’s a public park here. Development can only address these “barriers” by eliminating them. No one consulted those “adjoining communities” about the Mon-Oakland Connector before deciding to proceed with it. And during the series of public meetings last year, DOMI filed another grant application connected to the roadway without telling residents. City officials have lamented the continuing distrust around this project, but how can they be surprised?
16. Some people would like to attend these meetings but can’t because they are taking care of kids. Will you use part of the Knight Foundation grant to facilitate their participation by providing kids’ activities and supervision for future meetings?
17. DOMI’s presentation for the February 2018 meeting included a chart that gave “Autonomous Microtransit” a higher positive ranking than conventional shuttle buses and improved Port Authority bus service. This despite the fact that no data supports the assertion that AVs have a greater ability to “deliver in the near term” or “promote sustainable mobility and development”—in fact, the proposed Mon-Oakland Connector requires completely new infrastructure and a new fleet of vehicles. Why is AV being so aggressively put forward as the solution and whose interests does this serve?
18. Will people be able to use the Mon-Oakland Connector if they don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to provide personal information? What happens to the personal information a Mon-Oakland Connector app would collect?
19. What will happen to the Mon-Oakland Connector fare system after the fares are no longer subsidized (after 2 years)?