Politics: Here we go pavers, here we go!Edit

Did politics come into play during the paving of Mike Tomlin's street?Edit

By Chris Young, City Paper FEBRUARY 21, 2008

Guess who's more likely to have his street paved in Pittsburgh: (A) a resident who lives on a stretch of road scheduled to be paved, or (B) a resident who lives on a section of street that isn't scheduled to be paved, but who happens to be the head coach of the Steelers?

The correct answer, of course, is "B."

According to county real-estate records, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin purchased a home on the 1200 block of Shady Avenue in April 2008. The street was paved a few months after ... even while other sections of the street slated for resurfacing went unattended.

To city councilor Bill Peduto, who represents the Shadyside neighborhood and who has been critical of the city's paving decisions in the past, it's more proof that "[i]n Pittsburgh, politics are the determining factor" in deciding whose street gets paved.

"It's not the condition of the street, but the people who live on it," Peduto says.

According to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokesperson Alecia Sirk, "The section of Shady Avenue paved was on our list long before Coach Tomlin moved into his house, but paved after he moved in."

According to the city's 2007 paving list, however, Tomlin's stretch of Shady wasn't supposed to be paved at all.

Three sections of Shady were slated for resurfacing last year: the portion running from Bartlett Street to Forbes Avenue; from Wilkins Avenue to Hastings Street; and from Highmont Road to Fifth Avenue.

Of those, only the first was finished as planned. A portion of Shady between Wilkins and Hastings was resurfaced, but it doesn't match the section described in the paving list. Instead of starting at Wilkins and ending at Hastings, the resurfaced street begins roughly halfway between them and stretches about 150 yards beyond Hastings -- where it ends just about 15 feet beyond Tomlin's driveway.

As for the stretch from Highmont Road to Fifth Avenue, it's still laden with numerous cracks and potholes.

Asked for an explanation about the unusual paving stretch in front of Tomlin's home, Costa said the Steelers' coach "had nothing to do with it. Why would we only want his street paved?"

According to Costa, the paving list is subject to change, and in the case of Shady Avenue, it did. He says crews started paving just before Hastings -- in the middle of the block, instead of at Wilkins as originally planned --and planned to pave all the way to Fifth Avenue, part of which was never included in the city's paving schedule, but they ended after Tomlin's house because they learned that a gas company would soon be tearing up part of the road just beyond his driveway.

"That happens," Costa says. "Things change."

Costa says Public Works will finish paving Shady from where they left off all the way to Fifth Avenue come the spring.

Much to Peduto's dismay, the city's paving list is far from binding. He says it's not unusual for streets on the list not to be paved, and for streets not on the list -- like Tomlin's -- to be paved.

"It's completely up to the whim of the mayor and Public Works," he says. "[The schedule] is not always followed to a T."

Tomlin, through the Steelers, could not be reached for comment.

"I don't think folks know how deep this goes," says Peduto, who for years has been advocating for better street-paving management and an end to political paving. "The question to Public Works would be: How was that section chosen? Or better yet, how are any streets chosen?"

Presumably, such questions will arise less often in the future. The city recently hired computer firm CartaGraph to install a new software program to systematically decide which streets need to be repaved. At a cost of $35,000 for the software, plus $3,000 per year in service costs, the city will chart 20,000 city blocks, including their paving history and pothole prevalence.

But since it will take time to log in all of the city's data, the system won't be setting paving schedules until 2009. Once it is, Peduto says, all of the streets will be posted on the city's Web site, so residents can see when their street is planned for paving.

Still, Peduto remains skeptical it will be used properly.

"I'm happy that they're willing to consider the system" he says of the Ravenstahl administration. "But I'm also wary that they won't carry it out."

If not, the issue will remain, well, a political football.


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