Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

In case you missed it last month, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is proceeding with its plans for the latest phase of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

Property acquisition is underway along the 8-mile section of the coming highway to be built between Jefferson Hills and Duquesne.

The project is estimated to cost $900 million; construction is slated to begin in 2021. The plan is to connect that phase with a final stretch to I-376 in Monroeville. Someday.

But as Jake Haulk, president emeritus and senior advisor at the Allegheny Institute, reminded as that property-acquisition news was reported, “It’s sure to be a decade-long disruption of the Mon Valley … at a cost certain to double over projections.”

As if that’s not sobering enough from a public policy standpoint, consider this further spot-on assessment from the Ph.D. economist about the coming next leg:

“No” credible “traffic studies” were done. There has been “no estimate of lost economic activity as the last leg plows through neighborhoods toward the Parkway East.”

And with the source of funding for the project being gasoline taxes, Haulk reiterates that the project remains “a completely fatuous undertaking” that is “pure folly.”

Here’s another folly you might have missed:

The Post-Gazette reports consultants for the Port Authority of Allegheny County “have begun a year-long process to create a new ‘brand’ for the agency.”

Those involved in the effort – from the mass-transit agency’s CEO to two marketing executives – stressed to the newspaper that “branding” involves more than picking a new color scheme for buses and stations.

They say it “means developing a philosophy for providing transit service (that) carries through all aspects of the agency – from safety to cleanliness to interaction with the public and more.”

Strangely missing from this more than $327,000 re-branding exercise is any mention of reining-in out-of-whack costs for Port Authority bus services – second only to that found in New York City.

That said, here’s some of the verbiage used by those involved in this new Port Authority marketing campaign:

First, there’s “You need to know where you are so you can decide where you want to be.”

Then there’s “The brand has to be … meaningful or else it won’t be effective.”

And last, but not least, there’s “You don’t get a chance to do this very often so we have to do it right.”

But here’s another phrase the Port Authority’s re-branders should consider: Smearing a new hue of lipstick on the same-old pig won’t make it any prettier – or more operationally sound.

And then there’s this:

The Allegheny County Airport Authority is paying Alaska Airlines half-a-million dollars over the next two years to publicly subsidize daily flights to and from Pittsburgh International Airport.

But now there’s word of a management shakeup at the carrier’s parent firm, Alaska Air.

As The Seattle Times reports:

“Facing tough competition from Delta and Southwest, Alaska has also been challenged by the integration of Virgin America airplanes and employees following the acquisition of the California-based airline almost two years ago.”

About 100 job cuts are expected, required “to reset how management supports our frontline employees in a competitive environment.”

As long as that’s truly the case, OK.

But if this is another example of a publicly subsidized airline struggling to stay afloat (think of the OneJet fiasco), it will necessarily raise new questions about how subsidy-happy Allegheny County Airport Authority officials vet such recipients.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).