PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – With frequent flooding, degraded hillsides, and homes and roads at constant risk for landslides, local officials wasted no time busing around the new chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to see some of the worst of Pittsburgh.
“We want to make sure that if and when there is an infrastructure bill, Chairman DeFazio has the opportunity to see some of the things we’ve shown him in Pittsburgh,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Forest Hills Democrat.
“We’re thrilled that he would come here to look at the needs that we have, and I trust that he will help carry it over the finish line in Washington,” added U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a Mt. Lebanon Democrat.
Oregon U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio was joined by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on a private tour that included the airport, locks and dams, bus-rapid-transit, civic arena site, bridges, and — of course — the recent West End landslide.
“As a result of climate change, what we’re seeing happen with landslides is not something that is going to go away,” said Peduto.
“We viewed landslides that will take millions of dollars to take care of, but that’s only one of a dozen landslides currently in the city of Pittsburgh.”
KDKA money editor Jon Delano asked the chairman about federal help for landslides.
“I am puzzled as to why you were not given federal assistance under the Disaster Act,” said DeFazio.
“That’s puzzling to me. It seems like … and I asked, ‘you didn’t meet the threshold?’ They said, ‘no we met the threshold. We were just denied.’ “
“Perhaps partisan politics, I don’t know.”
DeFazio said back in the Clinton years, money was available in advance to take care of hillsides before there was a landslide, but now there’s no money.
“That’s foolish not to be making that investment or partnering with you in preventing these various expensive collapses.”
The chairman says his committee will look into the denial of aid.
“We’ll look into it, and there’s a whole lot of oversight we’re planning on.”
The chairman, a Democrat, said the Trump administration favors rural areas over urban ones when it comes to aide.
He was also asked about the $2 trillion infrastructure bill that the President and Democratic leaders found some agreement on last week.
DeFazio says the challenge is finding the money to pay for it.
He wants a penny-and-a-half increase in the federal gas tax that hasn’t gone up since 1993.
He says the cost of doing nothing far exceeds a small gas tax hike.
But, so far, no bi-partisan consensus on this.