Transportation Investment in the Mon Valley

Within the next two months, we will hit a milestone that one year ago sounded impossible -- a COVID-19 vaccine widely available to whomever wants or needs it. This will mark a turning point in our long struggle against this virus.

In our region and in Washington D.C., discussions have already started about what happens next, or “Building Back Better” as President Biden often refers. As we look to jumpstart an economy that has been hard-hit by the pandemic, Congress is debating two separate programs that could have a lasting impact on our communities, through earmarks and through a massive infrastructure bill.

As the elected representatives of the Mon Valley, we are urging other regional leaders and our congressional delegation to help us prioritize projects that could transform our communities and have an immediate impact on our local economy.

We all know that the Mon Valley has long struggled with significant transportation challenges, which essentially boils down to “you can’t get there,” requiring folks to rely on either congested highways or a web of transit and bus routes to move in and out of our communities, which at times feel cut-off from the rest of the region.

It is less than 10 miles from McKeesport to downtown Pittsburgh, but that trip can easily take more than an hour one way. Housing in the valley may be among the most affordable in the region, but that is offset by distances and difficulties involved in accessing jobs, schools and other resources.

If our elected congressional members are looking for stimulus projects that will employ thousands, jumpstart our local economy and change the long-term trajectory of our region, then we urge them to invest in our regional infrastructure.

Whether it is busways, bridges or pedestrian infrastructure, our region has numerous projects ready to go that would create tens of thousands of short-term and long-term jobs and bring additional benefits to our region.

In addition to connecting residents of the Mon Valley to the rest of the region, investing in our local infrastructure will connect the businesses and employers of the valley with employees, customers and the logistical networks that would further connect the Mon Valley to the rest of our region.

These projects could serve as a lifeline to the Mon Valley, but they would also benefit the entire region by reducing traffic on other roadways and encouraging alternative modes of transportation, reducing vehicle emissions, and thus helping address climate change and the air pollution that has plagued our communities.

When we invest in regional infrastructure, we’re not just allowing for the movement of people or goods, but for investment in long underserved and under-resourced communities. If we want to truly “Build Back Better,” our communities together have more than 1,000 acres of brownfield sites that are shovel-ready to build on.

The Mon Valley has the people, the employers, the locations, the knowledge and a culture of getting things done -- all we need are the connections. Connections that could easily be built -- that are as close to shovel-ready as any project in our region -- if we can convince the federal government to invest in our Mon Valley communities.

While the economies of the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have made significant progress over the last several decades since the decline of the steel industry, our communities have not recovered at the same pace. In many cases, our communities have been left behind.

The Mon Valley cannot, and should not, be forgotten. To be clear, any major transportation/infrastructure investments in Allegheny County should be made in the Mon Valley communities. We ask that our other regional partners and our congressional delegation remember that as they debate a potential transportation and infrastructure bill.

At times, the news coverage of these bills, or the discussion that surrounds them, can boil down to the big headline numbers as pundits from both sides debate and argue over the top line. But we must remember that these bills are more than numbers or political talking points -- they are more than the words on the page.

They can be the tools to open our region to the outside world and Build the Mon Valley Back -- Better.

State Rep. Austin Davis