Keystone Crossroads

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 2: Rebuilding Them Faster

Dec 9, 2014
Keystone Crossroads

This is the second story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

Twenty-three percent of Pennsylvania's bridges are structurally deficient, and many need to be replaced. But between permitting, design, and construction, building a new bridge takes years.

That's why the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is trying to speed things up.

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 1: How Are They Holding Up?

Dec 8, 2014
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

This is the first story of our three-part series on the state's bridges.

If you drive in Pennsylvania, you've probably crossed a structurally deficient bridge. Maybe you're driving over one right now.

Pennsylvania has more than 30,000 bridges. Some span rivers, like the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, and others are much smaller, crossing rural creeks and highways. More than 6,000 of these bridges are structurally deficient. (We put together an interactive map of the state's structurally deficient bridges.)

Regulated Tent Cities for Homeless Pondered But Improbable in PA

Dec 2, 2014
Image courtesy of Eric Weiss

Frank Fairweather says poor health forced him to quit truck driving just shy of his 50th birthday. He kept a roof over his head for a while but then one roommate was jailed for a parole violation, and the other skipped town.

Before he could find replacements, Fairweather fell behind on rent. He ended up joining several others camping under an interstate bridge near downtown Harrisburg.

Fairweather didn’t leave for three years, staying through winters and Tropical Storm Lee, until one night earlier this fall.

An Artist Battles Blight With a Coat of Gold Paint

Oct 8, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

To drive through Wilkinsburg is to tour the ravages of a post-industrial Pittsburgh, a suburb of the comeback city that just hasn’t come back, yet. Houses stand empty, there are open lots, drug deals go down in broad daylight. And then, glimmering on a corner lot: a house painted gold.

90.5 WESA hosted a public forum last night along with Keystone Crossroads, a project focused on urban issues statewide.

A New Municipality In Antietam Valley?

Sep 30, 2014
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Pennsylvania has more local governments than any other state except Texas and Illinois. There are some downsides to this, including the inefficiency and expense of duplicated services, and the potential for competition among municipalities.

State law allows municipalities to consolidate or merge, but it doesn't happen all that often because the process can be fraught with tension. But two communities in Berks County are trying to give it a shot— this November, residents will vote on whether they should consolidate and form a new municipality.

Keystone Crossroads Holds Statewide Town Hall Meetings

Sep 29, 2014
Lindsey Lazarski / WHYY

On Tuesday evening, the third Keystone Crossroads community forum will be held at the Community Broadcast center on the South Side. Titled, “Rust or Revival: Which Way is Our Town Heading?" these evenings are all about community engagement.

Similar forums have been held in Philadelphia and Harrisburg with the goal of parsing out our community problems and potential solutions. 

Johnstown Hosts Its Inaugural Outdoor Festival

Sep 24, 2014

Johnstown is hosting the inaugural Allegheny Adventure X-Fest, a weekend-long event for outdoor enthusiasts in the region. Brad Clemenson is with Lift Johnstown, one of the sponsors of the event. He says the weekend will incorporate Johnstown’s 39th annual marathon, along with a whole host of other activities, including biking, boating, hiking, geocaching, fly-fishing demonstrations, as well as music.

The biggest project yet under the public-private partnership, or P3 law, passed in 2012, will replace 558 of Pennsylvania's 4,200 structurally deficient bridges by 2018. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has released the final list of bridges, whittled down from 2000, and has reached out to private companies to submit bids for the project. PennDOT says this approach will get the job done quicker and more economically. 

Senator Richard Alloway (R) has sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would allow certain counties to increase their hotel taxes. If enacted, Senate Bill 838 would open the door to raising the tax visitors pay for hotel stays from 3 percent to 5 percent in applicable counties. And that’s in addition to the tax the state levies.

Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

State College's Highlands residents are used to sounds of partying on weekend nights. The neighborhood borders Penn State's University Park campus and downtown.

It's made up of fraternities and apartment buildings, but also single-family homes ranging from grand stone and brick historic mansions to more modest mid-century houses. The residents are quite the mix—college students, retired professors, and young families all call the Highlands home.

But it's not hard to tell who lives where.

Pennsylvania's cities and towns are full of promise, but plagued by problems. The appeal of urban living is on the rise. Many neighborhoods bustle with new residents and amenities. But issues such as crumbling infrastructure and high taxes linger. What can Pennsylvania's cities, large and small, do to address their problems and fulfill their promise? 

How Church Buildings In PA Are Finding New Lives

Sep 5, 2014
Marielle Segarra / WHYY

Walk a few blocks in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or any of Pennsylvania's old cities, and you're bound to see a house of worship. In Old City Philadelphia, these could be churches the founding fathers attended. In other neighborhoods, they could be former ethnic churches that served specific immigrant communities.

Pennsylvania's Cities Confront Homelessness

Aug 29, 2014
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

You'd never know it from the road, but in the woods in Allentown, there's a small monument to just how resourceful people can be, when they have to be.

Weeds and wildflowers obscure the path leading to Davina Delor's shelter. She built it herself after landing here in April - her fourth campsite since 2010.

That's when Delor, 42, lost her job, quickly followed by her apartment and car.

"I'm still looking for work. I get little odd jobs here and there, but nothing that pays. Nothing that will get you an apartment or anything like that," Delor says.

Foreign-born students studying in the U.S. spend billions in local economies and their talents should be more deliberately harnessed, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution.

The job market of the 21st Century is increasingly global and focused on innovation. That was one of the takeaways at the Governor’s Jobs 1st Summit in Pittsburgh Monday.

Kelly Tunney / For WPSU

Oil City suffered the fate of many other Pennsylvania communities that were once driven by prominent industries. It was once the hub of the nation's oil production and home to major companies like Pennzoil and Quaker State.

But the companies moved away and the days of Oil City's prosperity are gone. Oil City has had to find ways to reinvent itself. And it's chosen to embrace art—and artists.

Councilwoman Wants Inquiry Into Real Estate Deals

Aug 7, 2014

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is asking Mayor Bill Peduto to look into the sale of an apartment complex. She said how the sale happened could lead to a loss of tax revenue to the city.  

The Cork Factory Lofts in the Strip District were recently sold to GMH Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum. But instead of buying the converted lofts outright, GMH purchased the two companies that previously owned the converted lofts and associated properties. The sale included three buildings.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

 

When the lush, green curves of Route 403 give way to the expansive brick buildings of Johnstown's steel mills, innovative economic development is not the first thing that comes to mind. The city's landscape is industrial, full of cement, and accented generously with blight. Its population sits at about 20,000, down from a high of around 70,000. The last time it was this low was in 1890, and people continue to leave.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Property taxes are considered a relatively stable, easy-to-collect tax. In many states government officials conduct regular property reassessments, which help calculate accurate tax bills, without much to do. Not so in Pennsylvania, where reassessments can cause upheaval and dramatic political wrestling matches.

With the heavily boarded up community of Homestead as a backdrop, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania released a toolkit to fight blight today.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Oberg Industries’ tucked away buildings in Freeport, Pennsylvania are easy to miss.

But inside the nondescript structures are tidy rows of machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. In one department, refrigerator-sized electric discharge machines, which cut metal using wire, sizzle away like cooking bacon. In another, workers operate manual machines. In one room a worker runs quality assurance using a high-tech instrument.

Irina Zhorov/90.5 WESA

Ronell Guy oscillated between admiration and admonishment as she drove around the California-Kirkbride neighborhood in the Northside.

Guy, who is the executive director of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing and an interim board member of the city’s land bank, pointed at blighted properties and vacant lots and then cooed at the possibilities of the abandoned properties.

Jasmine Goldband / Jasmine Goldband Photography

90.5 WESA is partnering with public radio stations throughout the state on Keystone Crossroads. It’s a new initiative exploring the challenges faced by Pennsylvania cities, and how they're being overcome.

Some of the segments will air on Essential Pittsburgh, including features and conversations with reporters such as Irina Zhorov, based here in Pittsburgh.

Zhorov recently covered historic preservation as an economic development tool for Pittsburgh, along with manufacturing in western PA and workforce development. 

Zhorov said she's especially interested in how industry is changing in Western PA, new development projects and more broadly what the state is doing to stay solvent.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced that he wants to use the city’s stock of aging buildings as a tool for economic development.

Beyond Pittsburgh, too, Pennsylvania has no shortage of old buildings and some cities have long used them as a selling point. 

A new study measured the impact of maintaining older buildings in urban areas and concluded that for cities lucky enough to have them, leveraging them can bring development.

Another PA City to be Declared "Distressed"

Jun 6, 2014

While City Council and Mayor Bill Peduto try to finalize a third, 5-year recovery plan for Pittsburgh under Act 47, the city of Shamokin in Northumberland County will soon become the 21st municipality in the commonwealth currently declared financially distressed.

"This is a financial mess," says Shamokin City Clerk Robert Slaby.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

90.5 WESA has hired journalist Irina Zhorov as the station’s reporter for the Keystone Crossroads initiative, a two-year public media collaboration to focus on the challenges and opportunities facing Pennsylvanian cities.     

Zhorov joins 90.5 WESA after working as a reporter, multimedia producer and host at Wyoming Public Radio. Her professional interests focus on researching and reporting on environmental and energy-related issues, as well as homelessness and education.

Five public media stations spanning Pennsylvania have joined forces to form a collaborative reporting center called Keystone Crossroads.

Keystone Crossroads will explore urban decline and solutions in Pennsylvania and examine topics such as aging infrastructure, immigration, local government, neighborhood life, poverty and tax policy. The initiative aims to offer connected, statewide reporting on urban challenges in the Keystone State.

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