Road Work

Allegheny County’s Department of Public Works fielded fewer calls to repair the bane of nature’s fury, also known as the pothole, this year, according to a news article. As to how reliable the science of tracking complaints are (for instance, when a driver hits a pothole, do they know whether to call PennDot, the county, or the municipality and does the recipient of a wrongly-placed call tell the caller to redirect their ire to the proper place, and, if so, does that indeed happen?) but the article says that the County itself took 59 calls this winter, 54 in 2012, and over 100 the two previous years, including 2010 when the blizzard hit.

The County’s CAFR provides operating indicators and capital assets for Public Works’ functions (they are way in the back of the document) and that data shows that from 2002 to 2011 the County did not add a lot of infrastructure: it had the same amount of lane mileage (818), the same mileage of paved streets (395), the same number of bridges less than 8 feet in length (181), the same number of bridges between 8 and 20 feet in length (149), and added 1 bridge greater than 20 feet in length in 2006, bringing its inventory to 192. It has 9 fewer vehicles than it did in 2005 (130 now), and added 59 pieces of heavy equipment since 2005, bringing the total to 430.

The operating indicators show that in 2011 the Department spent 298k man hours on winter road maintenance (all activities) and purchased 19k tons of salt to melt snow. The high water mark (maybe the high snow mark is more apropos) was in 2010 when the man hours for winter road work topped 374k and nearly 27 tons of snow melting salt was purchased (based on the tonnage bought and the price paid by the County a ton averages about $50).

New Ranking a Family Plot?

Nearly a month after Pittsburgh was named "America’s Most Livable City" by Forbes magazine it has been named the 7th "Best Place to Raise a Family" by the same publication. Not top honors, but enough to warrant a quote or two from local leaders including the Mayor, though both rankings cover the seven county metro area.

This year’s methodology for ranking family-friendly places used the largest 100 metro areas and drew upon cost of living, home ownership, median household income, commute times, crime rate, and graduation rates. Given a similar sample and a lot of the same indicators it is easy to see why there was considerable overlap on the two recent Forbes’ tabulations. Only one place named in the top five most livable did not make it in the top ten best places to raise a family (Ann Arbor, MI).

But a quick look at the previous best family ranking in 2008 shows an entirely different picture: instead of metros, the magazine used counties over 65k in population. They also tried to construct a method of seeing how well public schools were funded by using only those counties where more than half of funding came from property taxes. They paid more attention to SAT scores as well as home prices and air quality in addition to the more conventional indicators of crime rate, commute, and per capita income.

The result: a completely different picture of the best places to raise a family in a two year time span. Only one state-Pennsylvania-had a place make it on to the top ten list in both years. Two years ago, two southeastern PA counties (Chester and Montgomery) made it, while this year the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg metros were on the list. There is no overlap beyond that. The best places from two years ago come from states that did not even have a metro area make it onto this year’s list.