Margaret J. Krauss

Keystone Crossroads Reporter

Margaret J. Krauss is a freelance reporter who is also the staff reporter for Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine. She spent 2015 producing a 48-part Pittsburgh history series for WESA, biking some 2,000 miles to do so. She previously worked for National Geographic Kids magazine producing multimedia content and researching.

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Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are in the midst of multi-year building booms. More than 4,000 apartment units were built in the two cities last year.

For many years in Pittsburgh, new apartment buildings weren’t a priority: the city had plenty of available housing stock and, despite a steady flow of college students, fairly pedestrian demand. But in 2012, 958 new units were built. The next year, that number jumped to 3,227 and hasn’t fallen below 2,100 since, according to Jeff Burd, president of Tall Timber Group, an information service for the construction industry.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

Bob Gradeck can’t stand the term “data-driven.”

It might seem odd that the project director of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center would recoil at a data-centric phrase, but Gradeck sees data as tools and not answers.

The WPRDC is the repository for more than 150 data sets from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County government, as well as organizations throughout the region.

Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool image via AP

 

President Donald Trump called for “a new program of national rebuilding,” in his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

Trump said he would push forward with his plan to invest $1 trillion to replace the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, and airports. Some Pennsylvanians saw the president's proposals — though short on details — as reason for optimism.

“I was very encouraged,” said David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.

 

Pennsylvania’s congressmen and senators are home this week for the district work period — regularly scheduled days when they leave D.C. to tackle constituent concerns. If representatives don't schedule town halls, sometimes constituents will.

At a people’s town hall in Washington, Pa., near Pittsburgh, an audience of about 45 listened to Leeann Howell talk about how repealing the Affordable Care Act would affect her. Howell said without the ACA, she’d have to quit her job in order to be her son’s 24-hour-nurse.

Joseph Kaczmarek / AP Photo

 

More than 3,000 bridges throughout the state have been deemed structurally deficient.

Heart palpitations, sweating, dizziness. For some people, crossing a bridge induces the same physiological responses as those experienced by an animal frozen in fear, said Dr. Rolf Jacob, a professor of psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh.

“Just like having fear of flying because the airplane could crash, some people might avoid bridges because they are concerned about its structural safety,” he said.

Alex Brandon / AP Photo

 

Pennsylvania wasn’t among the states where large-scale immigration enforcement took place last week, but communities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have reported raids.  

On Wednesday morning, the City of Philadelphia tweeted on its official account, “City is working to gather info on how many people have been impacted by increased ICE enforcements,” and gave the number for a hotline created by New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith immigrant justice organization.

Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

 

When Alhena Torres turns on her car, a gentle rumble of pop music spills out of the speakers. She used to listen to the news while she drove, but after the first few weeks of the new administration in Washington, she says music has felt like a better option.

“Sometimes I’m just sad and disappointed,” she said, pulling up Google maps on her phone and plugging in an address.

Torres drives all around Pittsburgh for work, a cleaning business she started in 2015.

“I like organizing and fixing things,” she laughed.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority issued an advisory to nearly 100,000 city residents to boil water before using it. While PWSA found no contaminants, lower than normal levels of disinfection were found at a reservoir supplying much of the central and eastern parts of the city.

The Highland Park Reservoir water is treated with microfiltration, but an additional chlorine treatment ensures redundancy, making sure all pathogens have been removed. Lower than normal levels of chlorine triggered the advisory.

Keith Srakocic / AP File Photo

 

 

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) announced Thursday that State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh will shut down by June 30, 2017.

As the state faces a $600 million budget gap this year alone, DOC said the most effective way to cut costs is to close prisons. Falling rates of crime, incarceration, and recidivism means inmate populations are down, and allows this reshuffling of inmates, said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

It's been three weeks since the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) announced five prisons were being considered for closure: State Correctional Institutions Pittsburgh and Mercer in the western part of the state, and Waymart, Retreat, and Frackville in the east. More than 2,500 prisoners will be relocated to other prisons throughout the state.

Over the last two years the state’s inmate population dropped by nearly 1,600 people. That reduction allows the Department of Corrections to reshuffle inmates and shutter prisons.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

Autonomous vehicles, ubiquitous broadband internet, improved energy systems — attendees at the U.S. Conference of Mayors buzzed with the potential technology in store for their cities.

In the 20 years the internet has existed, it has revolutionized the way we interact with the world, said Joanne Hovis. She’s president of CTC Technology & Energy, an IT consulting firm in Maryland. She said communities that prioritize global access to the internet spur innovation and entrepreneurship.

John Minchillo / AP Photo

 

While Washington, D.C. prepared for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, more than 300 mayors gathered blocks from the White House for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

They chatted, they swapped cards, they exchanged insight on engaging seniors, dealing with hunger, and and how to pay for infrastructure.

While Pennsylvania mayors said they’re largely hopeful that the new administration will work with cities, they’re not holding their breath.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

It started as a pothole.

A driver blew a tire in the Borough of Ephrata at 6 a.m. on Election Day and alerted the public works department.

By the time the sun came up the following day, the sinkhole was 30 feet wide, said Paul Swangren, superintendent of Ephrata’s public works and water. By some estimates the hole was 20 feet deep. After swallowing the intersection of West Pine Street and Park Avenue, it threatened two apartment buildings and almost ruptured a natural gas line.

Gene J. Puskar / AP File Photo

 

Moving people from one place to another means traffic: highway jams, crowded buses, overworked subways; and let’s not get into the bike lane squabbles. But one transit option remains blissfully serene: cable-propelled transit systems.

It’s a broad category of conveyance that includes gondolas, aerial tramways, funiculars, and in western Pennsylvania, inclines: cars that move up and down a set of tracks, driven by cables.

Alex Brandon / AP File Photo

 

Pittsburgh is a pretty good place to talk about why reliable infrastructure matters, said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

The Pittsburgh Tenants Union has been "a long time coming," said Ronell Guy, executive director of The Northside Coalition for Fair Housing. The resident-focused community development organization is spearheading efforts to create a city-wide tenants union.

“For the last 15 years, I’ve been trying to organize residents to stand up and have a voice in this city. The city of Pittsburgh is in a complete housing crisis,” she said, adding that the wait for affordable housing units can be years-long.

Ryan Loew / For Keystone Crossroads

 

Moving goods on barges is big business, but the lock system those barges rely on teeters on the brink of failure.

Deckhands Jeremy Groves and Dustin Frazee descend from the towboat D.L. Johnson to inspect their cargo: a single barge of coal. They circle the barge, walking along its edges — the gunnels — to make sure everything looks okay. Satisfied, they pick up kevlar lines and loop them around the barge’s timberheads. A 40-ton winch aboard the D.L. Johnson pulls the barge snug against the boat. That way, the cargo won’t wander as it’s pushed down the upper reaches of the Ohio River.

Jose Luis Magana / AP Photo

 

Time is running out for Pennsylvania coal miners. By January 1, 13,000 coal miners could lose their pensions and thousands their health care. Legislation called the Miners Protection Act would avert the loss of benefits, but the U.S. Senate has yet to schedule the bill for a vote.

Donnie Samms is director of Region 1 of the United Mine Workers of America, an area which includes Pennsylvania. He said it’s crucial for Congress to pass the bill and support miners. Spending years underground takes a huge toll on a person’s body, he said.

Hiroko Masuike / AP

 

When Ken Rosenberg thinks about self-driving cars, a particular incident comes to mind.

"One of the autonomous vehicles stopped in the middle of the road. There was a chicken running around the street, and the car didn't know what to do. But it wasn't just the chicken, a woman in a wheelchair was chasing the chicken. The car just basically shut down."

Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

 

Most people will never hold office, and for some, voting is as political as it gets. But more than a quarter of Pennsylvanians are working on their own versions of civic duty, through volunteering.

Theresa Cygrymus looked around the hall at Prince of Peace Parish, a Catholic Church on Pittsburgh’s South Side, and shook her head.

“It’s already nine o’clock, usually we have stuff cooking already.”

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

 

In the name of safer streets, one group interpreted the “walk” signal a little differently.

On Monday Pittsburgh City Council unanimously recommended Complete Streets legislation for final approval. The policy is essentially a city-wide blueprint to make streets safer, more accessible, and convenient for everyone.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

While Philadelphia and Pittsburgh organized protests against President-elect Trump, there didn't seem to be similar events in other parts of the state. In Pittsburgh last night, more than 200 people packed a meeting to figure out how to deal with a Trump presidency. Organized through Facebook, the event was called "Emergency Meeting: Let's Unite To Stop President Trump." 

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

 

A proposal to do so never made it past a Senate committee.

Irina Zhorov / WESA

 

The EPA says requirements of the 25-year-old Lead and Copper Rule are in urgent need of an upgrade. 

There is no safe blood level of lead for children. While there have been major reductions in childhood lead exposure over the last few decades, the EPA says there is more to do.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

 

Banks make it possible to build credit, wealth, and security. But for the 7 percent of U.S. households that don’t have a checking or savings account, those benefits remain out of reach.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

In 2015, the Harvard Kennedy School decided to support Pennsylvania in creating Pay for Success programs. If Pay for Success sounds like bribing a middle schooler to bring home good grades ($5 for an A, anyone?) it’s because both transactions aim to incentivize results.  The former is just more involved than the latter.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

You know the old adage "Never judge a city by (just) its bond"? Or "Forgive and forget: bonds have histories, too"? No? How about that bumper sticker: "Reductive is as reductive does"?

OK, none of those are real.