ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk on Wednesday joined a caravan of mayors highlighting local investments made possible by federal coronavirus pandemic-relief funding.
Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti and Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter drove to Allentown in a van for a short news conference after speaking in their hometowns earlier in the day.
Several Pennsylvania mayors, including Allentown’s Matt Tuerk, spoke Wednesday about projects in their cities funded that were funded by the American Rescue Plan Act
After the conference, Tuerk joined Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti and Williamsport’s Derek Slaughter on a ride to Lancaster
The city leaders are set to end their tour at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting in Ohio
Tuerk held the small event as part of a four-stop tour as several Pennsylvania mayors make their way to the United States Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The three mayors spoke in front of several trucks owned by Abel Recon, a Lancaster-based infrastructure rehabilitation company that was working on the block.
Allentown stormwater manager Bob Thomas said crews were lining old pipes on the block with a plastic coating that is cured when hit by ultraviolet light.
Lining old pipes is less than half as expensive as replacing them and can be done in one day, Thomas said. It’s also safer for residents and workers because it doesn’t require crews to dig roadside trenches that can reach up to 20 feet deep, he said.
“The investments that we make in infrastructure make our lives in the city better. Infrastructure is the thing that really touches everybody. If it’s spent in an equitable way, then we can make sure that everybody benefits.”
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk
Tuerk chose that backdrop to showcase the city’s $8 million project to repair stormwater pipes throughout the city, some of which are more than 100 years old, officials said.
Thomas likened the project to triage, with city officials and crews working to fix the worst pipes first. Allentown has specialized cameras that track water flow and alert officials to major issues, he said.
Stormwater can move at high speeds if pipes aren’t maintained, which can quickly damage curbs and roads and create sinkholes — and much more costly repairs — officials said.
Federal money to spend
The project is mostly funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 billion pandemic-relief bill passed in 2021 that sent $57 million to Allentown. Officials are using about $5 million of the city’s ARPA fund for the stormwater-repair project.
The city only had about $425,000 to spend on similar projects in 2020, prior to the pandemic-relief funding, officials said. That meant city crews could only replace about a half-mile of piping that year, Thomas said.
Mayor Tuerk said Allentown has allocated most of its ARPA funding, though there still is $11 million that officials must decide how to spend.
Tuerk is urging Allentown City Council to spend much of that money on infrastructure improvements related to stormwater, biking, pedestrians and more.
“The investments that we make in infrastructure make our lives in the city better,” Tuerk said. “Infrastructure is the thing that really touches everybody. If it’s spent in an equitable way, then we can make sure that everybody benefits.”
Conference of mayors
Tuerk, Cognetti and Slaughter climbed into the van after the short news conference to make their way to Lancaster.
There, they were scheduled to meet up with Mayor Danene Sorace to talk about her city’s ARPA-funded investments in affordable housing.
The four mayors are expected to join Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis in Harrisburg before linking up with Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey on the way to Ohio.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 91st annual meeting is scheduled to run Friday through Monday, with mayors of cities with populations of at least 30,000 invited to attend.
The organization worked closely with President Joe Biden’s administration on the American Rescue Plan Act, which sent $65.1 billion directly to U.S. cities, Cognetti said Wednesday.
That ensured essential relief funding was not tied up at the state level and could be put to immediate use, she said.
“We mayors fought so hard to get this funding directly,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to bringing good things back to Allentown.”
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk
Tuerk said he’s “looking forward to learning what’s working in other cities” from other mayors, as well as “commiserating with folks on some of the challenges that they faced.
“And I’m looking forward to bringing good things back to Allentown,” he said.
Tuerk said he spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at a previous conference and soon after learned the city was awarded a pedestrian-safety grant.
He said he plans to speak with officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Energy, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and he’ll “always have an eye toward getting them to commit resources to Allentown.”