There was cheering among young people for County Executive Dan Onorato last week, and the source of their excitement was ... his transportation policy.
At a July 13 forum hosted by the League of Young Voters and held at the Union Project in Highland Park, Onorato drew applause from the capacity crowd, which consisted largely of pro-bus, anti-highway partisans. Heather Sage, director of outreach for environmental group PennFuture, asked Onorato if he'd support a moratorium on the state Turnpike Commission buying properties along the route of the proposed Mon-Fayette Expressway. Onorato's agreement drew shouts from the crowd.
"It's immoral ... buying them up and just sitting there with a ghost town from now until eternity because there's no chance for the money for construction to come," Sage said. "Our elected officials must convey to the turnpike commission that they don't want it to happen until the money's there."
Onorato didn't hold back when asked about funding for the Port Authority, warning that a crisis looms for the entire state and predicting that matters would come to a head around December. Without dedicated funds from the state, he said, "We're going to have to shut down service. It's going to be draconian."
He spoke about linking Oakland, Downtown and the airport, three of the region's main assets, possibly by elevated train. He also speculated about taking mostly unused Port Authority Park and Ride lots and building housing above them.
"If we can't move transit to housing, why not move housing to transit?" he said.
Onorato raised the possibility of making money from the busways, possibly opening them (for a fee) to companies like UPS to expedite their shipping. It could put money in county coffers and reduce truck traffic on general-use streets, he said.
All was not rosy, of course. Responding to a question about the city's bikeability, Onorato pointed to former mayor Tom Murphy's legacy of a system of bike trails.
"[The trails] are for recreation," said Scott Bricker, executive director of BikePittsburgh, after the meeting. "They're not lit. Commuting on them is tough. We still very much need to ease [riding on] the streets."
Onorato also addressed the T tunnel to the North Side, approved earlier that day. Whether people thought it was a good or bad idea, Onorato contended, approving it was important because the federal government is picking up 80 percent of the tab in a "use it or lose it" situation. That money could only go to this project; spurning it, Onorato claimed, would be showing bad faith.
"I think the highlight of the night was having a completely nontraditional audience for [Onorato]," says Khari Mosley, regional director for Pittsburgh's League. "He fed off the energy of a younger audience. I think a lot more Dan Onorato fans left this building than came in."