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Potholes, we've got potholes

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

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Our Sunday report about the early onset of pothole season caused quite a stir. Other news organizations jumped on the story, and soon, the new Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Peduto, was ordering a 72-hour "blitz" by road crews to fill as many potholes as possible.

All well and good, but if the city wants to get the upper hand on potholes, it must pave more than the 40 or so miles that it typically does in a construction season. The city has about 1,000 lane-miles of streets to maintain, and good practice would be to repave them at least once every decade. That means a 100-mile paving program each year.

Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski wants the city to build its own asphalt plant, or enter a joint venture with Allegheny County to build such a facility.

You can read our coverage of the pothole outbreak here and here, including where to call to report a pothole and get it fixed.

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An extended Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance for PennDOT, whose driver's license and photo centers will be closed Saturday and Monday.

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Gasoline price update: The average per-gallon price in Pennsylvania as of today, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, was $3.532. That is up 7.5 cents since Dec. 30. The transportation bill passed in November effectively raised the Pennsylvania gasoline tax by 9.5 cents on Jan. 1, and shifted all taxation to the wholesale level. There was some disagreement over whether the entire tax increase would be passed to consumers at the pump. At this point, the tax increase clearly has pushed up the price, but not quite as much as some had feared.

The national average price today was 3.306, or 22.6 cents lower than Pennsylvania's average.

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Young artist shows Beechview some love

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

 

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While the Urban Redevelopment Authority markets three properties it owns in Beechview, many residents continue to wait in frustration over so many empty storefronts along Broadway Avenue. The URA has delivered on a promise its acting director Rob Rubinstein made at a meeting last summer to demolish 1602. The promise drew a hearty round of cheers, but that was almost the extent of the good news.
 
But a sliver of good news at the end of the meeting was the hatching of a plan to install a work of art at one of the URA’s properties, 1600 Broadway.
 
Resident Kim Frie headed a committee sponsored by the Beechview Merchant’s Association that promoted a public art work as at least a sign that they could do a better job with windows than plywood boards. At best, it shows that the neighborhood hasn’t given up.
 
Kim knew 15-year-old Claire Pullen from church; Claire’s family lives in Mount Lebanon, where she is home-schooled. Claire is a budding artist. Kim asked Claire if she wanted to produce some mock-ups of images that would suitably cover all the windows in the former Mexican restaurant, which has been vacant for several years.
 
“I agreed,” said Claire, who was familiar with Beechview because she has friends who live there and she makes use of the Carnegie Library there. “I did three and Kim chose that one. Because of the name, I felt like I had to put a tree in it. I did the lights because I thought they were whimsical and welcoming.
 
“It was installed over the weekend,” she said. “We drove by the night we were put up, and it was kind of surreal to see my art in the windows and that big. It was cool though.” 
 
She drew on the impressionists as an inspiration, specifically Van Gogh, she said. 
 
“I’m afraid that when people pass through [on the T] think of Beechview as run-down buildings,” Claire said. “I hope this creates a more welcoming atmosphere. I hope people think ‘someone cares.’”
 
Rob from the URA said there’s no way to be sure what how much a mural or other public art might inspire an investor to take a serious look around “but it is an interim strategy,” he said. “That mural almost gives you the feel of a ‘coming soon’ event and says ‘This isn’t a forgotten building.’”
 
Photo by Kim Frie
 

 

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Church competition, struggles foreseen

Written by Peter Smith on .

Churches may start cannibalizing each other's members, with the big getting bigger and the small ones either being merged into the bigger ones (which is another way of saying "acquired") or facing continued pressures for survival.

I'm putting it in bleaker words than the original, but that's the upshot from a recent list of church trends produced by a prominent researcher for the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer recently published "14 Predictions for Churches in 2014" (in two parts, here and here). The Southern Baptist-affiliated agency oversees research and book and media sales.

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Nuns' decline, resilience shown in documentary

Written by Peter Smith on .

In 1965, there were nearly 180,000 Roman Catholic nuns in the United States. By 2013, that number was barely 50,000, and large numbers of them are now elderly and receiving the kinds of health care that many of them once provided.

A new documentary premiering tonight on WQED-TV looks at the impact of that change in and around western Pennsylvania. It shows vacated motherhouses and other ministries once run by large religious orders. 

"I don’t know who is going to take up the slack," wonders one relative of a deceased nun, recalling the "dedication these sisters had."

Still, the documentary, "Change of Habit," focuses on the resilience of the remaining sisters.

 

"Instead of complaining about it or feeling sorry for yourself, you just reinvented yourself," said Sister Patrice Hughes of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. "... Old nuns never retire, they keep plugging away."

"I do believe girls will come and embrace this charism," said Sister Catherine Meinert, provincial superior of the sisters of Charity.

The documentary goes behind razor wire of the maximum security prison in Greene County to portray Sue Fazzini, a Benedictine nun working as an addiction counselor; and Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz, a former religious-education administrator who works in a garden at the Sisters of St. Joseph's motherhouse in Beaver County, producing food for local pantries and honey products for the sisters' gift shop.

And it portrays the Franciscan Sisters of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother in Steubenville, Ohio, a small order but one countering trends by growing with an appeal to younger women wearing the traditional habit. Sister Rita Claire, a former woman's professional football player for the Detroit Demolition, admits religious life is harder than the gridiron because "in football you can run people over when you're mad. In religious life you have to die to yourself and listen to the Lord."

The documentary goes into impressive depth on the lives of religious women past and present. It doesn't delve in detail into the big question looming behind all this: Why? Why did such a central part of Catholic life in America, and in the Western world, suddenly go on a trajectory toward a small niche? Many people have their pet theories, and one could take a lot longer than this documentary to try to answer it. But it succeeds in its purpose of offering a rich portrait of those who do continue to answer the call to religious life.

The half-hour documentary, airing at 8 p.m. on WQED-TV, was created by reporter/producer Michael Bartley and photographer/editor Paul Ruggieri.

 

 

 

 

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Higher gas tax has trickled down to the pump

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

gaspricesThe increase in the wholesale gasoline tax approved by the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett has trickled down to the pump.

The transportation funding bill that passed in November eliminated the 12-cent-per-gallon flat tax paid by consumers and shifted all taxation of gasoline to the wholesale level, removing an artificial cap on the wholesale tax, with the net effect of a 9.5-cent-per-gallon increase in the total tax effective Jan. 1.

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge report, the statewide average price for a gallon of unleaded rose from $3.457 on Dec. 30 to $3.554 on Sunday, an indication that distributors are passing the full burden of the higher tax to drivers. National average prices remained relatively stable during that time frame.

Here's a statement from the Sheetz convenience store chain about the transportation funding bill and tax increase:

The lack of funding available for repairs on Pennsylvania roads and bridges has taken a significant toll on Pennsylvania drivers, including our customers, our employees and the many trucks that serve our 464 stores throughout the Commonwealth and the other five states in which we operate.

Sheetz commends Governor Tom Corbett and the General Assembly for the recently enacted, bipartisan transportation funding legislation, which will provide a much needed financial source for infrastructure improvements across the Commonwealth. The legislation takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Sheetz is committed to assuring our consumers the lowest possible price on gasoline and there are many factors that go into how those prices are set. While removal of the oil company franchise cap is one reason that retail costs could increase, there are other components of this legislation that could decrease those costs, including the elimination of the 12-cent liquid fuels tax that consumers pay at the pump.

Act 89 provides for a comprehensive investment in transportation that will make our road system safe and efficient, stimulate the state’s economy, and improve the quality of life for both our employees and customers.

Photo: The Huffington Post

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In addition to socking us with cold and snow, Old Man Winter is exposing the ridiculousness of those long-range winter forecasts that local TV meteorologists trot out every fall.

dartboardThese heavily hyped ratings gimmicks purport to tell us how much snow and cold we’ll get each month for the entire season. Our guess is that the TV execs want you to watch, then forget. We decided to keep track throughout the season.

The National Weather Service recorded 15 inches of snow in December. WPXI’s Stephen Cropper predicted 10 inches; WTAE’s Mike Harvey said 8 inches; KDKA’s Jeff Verszyla told us we’d get 4.4 inches. So the best forecast of the three was off by 50 percent.

Mr. Verszyla had us getting 6.6 inches total during November and December, while Mr. Harvey predicted 10 inches for the two-month period. The actual total was 24.3 inches, meaning your Aunt Nellie’s Ouija board probably came closer to the correct total than the experts.

Mr. Cropper didn’t hazard a guess for November, waiting till the end of the month to deliver his winter forecast.

Mr. Verszyla said December temperatures would be 5 degrees warmer than normal, while Mr. Harvey forecast an average 1 degree below normal. The actual average was 1.7 degrees warmer than normal. Mr. Cropper didn’t predict the average but said “quick shots” of cold air would move through, not exactly a daring forecast for Pittsburgh in December.

For January, Mr. Harvey says to expect 15 inches of snow; Mr. Cropper says 12 inches; Mr. Verszyla, 7.9 inches — not 8, mind you, but 7.9.

Your guess is as good as theirs.

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Just a reminder that Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls went up at midnight, 12 percent for cash payers and 2 percent for E-ZPass subscribers. For more details, see the Post-Gazette's report from last week right here.

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While The Roundabout was tending to various holiday demands, Allegheny County announced the completion of the Brownsville-Broughton-Curry Hollow intersection realignment project in early December. This gets our vote for Project of the Year, a vast improvement to one of the most congested intersections in the region.

Also completed were two other major intersection improvements in the South Hills: expansion of the Broughton-Baptist intersection in Bethel Park and a second through lane from Gilkeson Road to Connor Road in Mt. Lebanon. 2013 also brought us completion of the Route 28 interchanges at the 31st and 40th street bridges.

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Outbound traffic on Route 28 will be restricted to a single lane in the area of the 31st Street Bridge starting at 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The restriction is in addition to the around-the-clock lane closure already in place before the bridge. It will be lifted at 5 a.m. daily, except Saturday, when it will continue until 8 a.m. Crews will install an overhead sign.

Inbound traffic on West Carson Street will be unable to turn right into the Corliss Tunnel starting Monday morning. Underground electrical work will cause the closure at 8 a.m. It will continue around the clock through Feb. 14, with traffic detoured beyond the tunnel to Steuben Street and Chartiers Avenue to reach Corliss Street. Drivers will continue to be able to turn right from the tunnel onto West Carson. Outbound West Carson Street remains closed for the $39 million reconstruction project that will stretch into 2015.

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