Mark Nootbaar

Senior News Editor

Mark Nootbaar is a native of Illinois but moved to Pittsburgh more than 16 years ago to become the Assistant News Director at National Public Radio Charter Member Station WDUQ. As assistant News Director, Mark served as WDUQ’s lead reporter and morning assignment editor. After WDUQ was sold in 2011, Mark moved with the frequency to the new station to become the Senior News Editor where he is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the 90.5 WESA newsroom. Mark has also worked in Illinois and Texas. He lives in the North Hills with his lovely wife and daughter.


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While Pennsylvania’s legislative leaders argue over thresholds for prevailing wage projects and gasoline tax rates, one of the state’s most popular former governor’s is calling on lawmakers to act quickly. 

“Transportation infrastructure is key to not only the quality of life but your ability to be competitive,” said former Gov. Tom Ridge. “People will see that once Pennsylvania invested today in its future, they’ll get immediate results.”

A measure that would help some convicted criminals clear their record has been passed by the Pennsylvania Senate and is on its way to the House.

Senate Bill 391 would allow individuals who were convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor of the third or second degree and have not been arrested or prosecuted for seven to ten years following the completion of their sentence to have their record expunged. 

CSX Corp. plans to build a $50 million truck-to-train freight transfer station in one of Pittsburgh's poorest suburbs.

Officials in McKees Rocks hope the mile-long facility, which stretches into neighboring Stowe Township along the Ohio River, will jumpstart plans for a business park next to it. McKees Rocks Mayor Jack Muhr says, "This is the kind of development project that can pave the way for more growth."

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

On a typical weekday in October about 70 visitors will wander in and out of the Fort Pitt Block House in Point State Park, since Florentijn Hofman’s giant rubber duck has been floating in the Allegheny River that number has grown by nearly 600 percent.

“It’s just been crazy,” said Block House curator Emily Weaver who has seen weekend visitation shoot through the roof.  “It’s been a lot like having the Three Rivers Regatta here every week.  It’s just been crazy.”

With a unanimous vote, lawmakers in Harrisburg have taken the unusual step of lowering the state’s ability to borrow money.  The House and Senate approved a bill this week that reduces Pennsylvania’s debt ceiling from $4.05 billion to $3.45 billion. 

“Under Governor Rendell the debt limit was increased five times and we felt we needed to reduce our debt service payments and reduce our overall debt,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). 

The Allegheny County Airport Authority Board has approved a budget that lowers rates and assumes that traffic will hold steady at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The $95.8 million operating budget will drop per passenger fees paid by airlines from the current $14.11 to $13.92. Authority spokesperson JoAnn Jenny said the decrease is a direct result of payments from CONSOL Energy, which has leased the rights to drill into the Marcellus shale under the airport.

While Senate leaders were announcing details of a last-minute agreement Wednesday to avert a threatened Treasury default and reopen the government after 16-day partial shutdown, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was saying the deal is just a starting point.

Casey said he is pleased that the proposal called for the Treasury to have authority to continue borrowing through Feb. 7, and the government would be open through Jan. 15, but he would prefer that the deadline be pushed back through the end of 2014 as had been included in an earlier proposal. 

Flickr user wildcellist

Opposition is starting to pile up for a recently revived proposal to keep buses out of most of the Golden Triangle. 

At the behest of some business owners and a few elected officials, the Port Authority of Allegheny County has been searching for years to find a solution to the congestion caused by buses passing through the heart of downtown.

Most recently, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and City Councilman Bill Peduto proposed that routes be pushed to the edges of downtown, forcing some riders to walk a few extra blocks to get to work. 

As officials at Chatham University prepare to open their new Eden Hall Campus with a focus on sustainability, it has received its largest monetary gift ever in the form of a $15 million dollar endowment from the Falk Foundation.

The school and the foundation have long had a partnership, according to Chatham President Esther Barazzone, “starting in 1952 Chatham had a Falk Hall and since then we have been close to the foundation and its trustees.  Sigo Falk, who is the current head of the foundation, has also been chair of the board of Chatham University.”

Gasoline prices fell this week three cents compared to last week to land at $3.45 a gallon and the price could slip as low as $3.10 by Christmas, according to AAA East Central Senior Vice President Bevi Powel. 

Last year at this time the price stood at $3.89.

Powel links the slide in prices to a trio of key factors, saying “Winter blends of gasoline are little bit cheaper to manufacture, demand is always a little bit lower after the summer driving season, and we have not had one hurricane effect the production in recent months.”

A few local lawmakers are teaming up with a Democrat from Luzerne County in an effort to make it as easy to report child abuse as it is to report a fire. 

The Child Abuse Hotline Bill has made it out of the State Senate Aging and Youth Committee and is now before the Communications and Technology Committee. Senate Bill 26 would create a three digit, toll-free number similar to 911 that would be reserved for reporting child abuse.

Confusion continues to swirl around the coming split of Highmark and UPMC, and a pair of western Pennsylvania state representatives is hoping to calm the fears of many in the region.

Reps. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) and Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) this week introduced a pair of bills (HB 1621 and HB 1622) that would force all not-for-profit health care insurers and health care providers to open their services to all insurance holders, not just their own.

Courtesy of Ei Arakawa © Ei Arakawa and Henning Bohl. Commissioned by Carnegie Museum of Art for the 2013 Carnegie International. Supported by The George Foundation and The Japan Foundation, New York

From the very beginning, the curators of the 2013 Carnegie International wanted the art exhibition to be about play, so they built a playground in front of the museum.

Several artists have picked up on that theme, including Brooklyn-based performance artists Ei Arakawa.

The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts has had quite an eventful first few days. It started with a splash, stumbled when an installation might have caused three seizures and hopes to get back on track Wednesday with the opening of a stage show.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Carnegie International artist Phyllida Barlow makes big art. 

“I want to reach sculpturally into spaces that are beyond my reach. I’m not really interested in making monumental works, but more anti-monumental works,” Barlow said.

“I hope, despite their size, there is an intimacy within the way the sections, or the pieces, are actually made, that are all to do with being all well within my reach as a human being.”

Courtesy of the artist, Lisson Gallery, London, and Alumnos47 Foundation

When the Carnegie International Exhibition opens Oct. 5, the Hall of Sculptures will be filled with weapons bent on communicating a message of peace, rather than violence.

Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes transforms guns confiscated and decommissioned by the Mexican military to make works of art that are also musical instruments.

Flickr user jwalter522

Walk around town these days and you’re just about as likely to see someone sporting a Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt as you are someone in Steelers garb.

Much of the Bucos team gear has been purchased this season as the Pirates won more games than they lost for the first time in 21 years and won back the hearts of fans that can’t remember the last time they had a reason to cheer on the home team in September. 

A total of $70,000 will be flowing into the residential portions of Oakland over the next two years to help combat underage and so-called nuisance drinking.

“We’re going to measure success over two years, and on going, by a reduction in the number of highly disruptive, illegal, under-age, student binge drinking parties,” said Geof Becker, co-chair of the Oakland community code enforcement effort, Oakwatch.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three out of four child safety seats are improperly installed in cars and trucks, and state police in Pennsylvania are hoping to fix as many of them as possible. 

Sunday marked the beginning of National Child Passenger Safety Week, and Pennsylvania State Police are teaming up with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to offer 145 safety seat check up events throughout the state. 

State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) doesn’t believe federal investigators will find anything substantial from documents they’ve subpoenaed last week from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Ferlo currently sits on the board of the URA.

The subpoena comes after board chairman Yarone Zober, and the mayor’s chief of staff, testified Tuesday before a federal grand jury believed to be investigating whether Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is involved in funding irregularities.

Ferlo said he’s not sure what investigators are looking to find.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County is a little bit closer to once again having a full board. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has submitted his for appointees to round out the newly reformed 11-member board.

Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of Greater Pittsburgh Region, Inc.

They were officially known as the 332nd Fighter group and the 477th Bombardment group, but the world remembers them as the Tuskegee Airmen.

The memory of the first black military pilots is being honored throughout the region this week. On Thursday a new semi-permanent display honoring the corps was unveiled at Pittsburgh International Airport by county executive Rich Fitzgerald.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley is hoping a series of events he is sponsoring this weekend will improve the health of his district in every sense of the word.

“When you hear the word ‘health’ you always go instantly to physical health, but we’re also talking about your financial health, your mental health, and your emotional health, your communal health,” Wheatley said. “So that really was the impetus for what we wanted to do. And we wanted to get people out moving, we wanted to get people out talking, we wanted to get people out to share, so we kind of combined our activities.”

Flickr user the justified sinner

School has started, Labor Day has come and gone, and for many, that means summer is over. 

A pair of local universities will mark the 12th anniversary of the attacks of September 11th in very public but very different ways. 

Chatham University will gather Wednesday afternoon on the quad for a moment of silence, a short speech from the Dean of Student Affairs office, remarks from a representative of the Wounded Warrior Project and a performance of the National Anthem by the Chatham University Choir. 

The goal of the event is not only to remember the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2011, but also to salute the growing number of students on campus who are also veterans. 

For decades, small pockets of lawmakers, property owners and education activists have been pushing to end the use of property taxes to fund education in Pennsylvania, and now a local lawmakers is hoping to forward the debate with fresh legislation.

On average, school districts in the United States pulled 44 percent of their funding in 2011 from local sources, and most often that funding came from property taxes. In that same year, districts in Pennsylvania turned to local sources for 57 percent of their revenue, which is the fourth highest percentage in the country. 

A few hundred Pittsburghers are expected to gather downtown this weekend to make some new friends, get a little sweaty and play some of the best new games invented this year. 

It's all part of the Best Games Festival put on by City of Play.

“You don’t have to be a hyper-athlete to show up to what we do,” said City of Play Director Adam Nelson.  “That’s one of the foundations of the organization and the festival.”

Eighteen people alleged to have ties to a violent drug gang based in Wilkinsburg have been arrested in what is being called a major bust. The suspected drug dealers were taken into custody as part of a joint effort involving the PA Attorney General's Organized Crime Section and the Allegheny County Police.

The "Operation Wilkinsburg Crew" was launched, according to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, in reaction to a series of homicides and shootings in Wilkinsburg believed to be related to heroin trafficking.

Just ahead of Labor Day, the left-leaning Keystone Research Center is calling on the state to spend more to support public sector jobs and on the private sector to pay their low-wage workers more. 

The Harrisburg-based think tank’s State of Working Pennsylvania report shows the state’s strong employment position immediately following the recession has begun to falter.

A student group at the University of Pittsburgh has been successful in its effort to get the school’s administration to sign on to a program aimed at guaranteeing workers rights wherever official school apparel is manufactured.

“As soon as I found out for sure I jumped up and down for like a good two or three minutes,” said Joe Thomas, co-founder of the Pitt chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy.