Road to stability: A distressed city needs new funding sources

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Be careful what you wish for. All that melting snow is revealing a pockmarked streetscape in the city of Pittsburgh.

Although many of the potholes now swallowing wheels and jarring suspension systems are of the seasonal variety, the city also is faced with a chronic case of deferred maintenance on street resurfacing. Despite 1,037 miles of roadway, Pittsburgh can afford to repave only 30 miles in 2010 -- less than half the optimal amount it should do each year to stay on top of the job.

The inability of the Ravenstahl administration to deal effectively with last month's historic snowfall may have been due to lack of experience and readiness. But the failure to repair and resurface more streets this year -- and years prior -- comes down to something more basic: lack of dollars.

As everyone knows, the city is designated by the state as financially distressed; its spending is monitored by two sets of state overseers. One unfortunate symptom of this dire condition is the city ends up using federal dollars on street resurfacing in the city's poorest neighborhoods while giving them less than their share of local funds.

Councilman Ricky Burgess wants to change that and make sure low-income areas get their proper share of local money, plus their federal Community Development Block Grants. In a perfect world, he'd be right. But at the moment Pittsburgh is in desperate financial straits and needs to have flexible use of its money -- for battered streets if nothing else.

Rather than waste time fighting with each other over who gets how many neighborhood dollars, City Council members and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl must focus on the real financial challenge: how to get more support from commuters and nonprofits (remember them?) for basic city services.

The sorry condition of Pittsburgh streets is testimony to the fact that the city is not out of the fiscal woods.


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