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Pittsburgh parking board studies garage improvements

A parking lease that could have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for capital improvements died last year, but the Pittsburgh Parking Authority still is pushing ahead with plans to upgrade garages and meters.
The authority board voted Thursday to study the structural needs of four garages and the feasibility of replacing about 1,200 meters, most of them Downtown and in Oakland, with metering devices that accept credit cards.

City Council last fall rejected Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's plan to lease parking garages, lots and meters for 50 years. A group of investors offered nearly $452 million for the lease, and it also pledged to make $440 million in parking system upgrades over the half-century, including $90 million in the first seven to 10 years.

Much of that initial outlay would have been used to overhaul garages at Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue; Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Sixth Street; and Ninth Street and Penn Avenue. Now, the authority will investigate the needs at those garages -- as well as the Third Avenue garage -- and consider funding the upgrades itself.

"The rehabilitation needs of the authority don't change, regardless of the outcome" of the lease project, said board Chairman Scott Kunka, who is also Mr. Ravenstahl's finance director.

The board voted to ask engineering firms to submit proposals for evaluating the four garages and making recommendations for improvements.

The board will issue a separate call for proposals for possible expansion of the authority's use of "pay-and-display" metering devices, which already have replaced meters in some neighborhoods, including Oakland and Shadyside. David Onorato, authority executive director, said the project initially would focus on meters Downtown in Oakland.

During debate on the lease proposal, Mr. Ravenstahl and other administration officials said the authority would be hard-pressed to fund garage improvements and other modernization efforts itself. On Thursday, Mr. Onorato said new metering devices and garage improvements might be funded with parking rate increases and a new bond issue.

After rejecting the parking lease, council voted to raise meter rates for another bailout plan. Though that plan too failed -- because of the mayor's opposition -- the meter rate increases still will take effect in June.

Though the city owns about 7,000 on-street meters and controls the rates, the authority receives the lion's share of meter revenue under an interagency agreement. Some council members want to renegotiate that agreement and capture a greater percentage of meter revenue for city projects, but Mr. Onorato said there have been no talks so far.
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