A Pennsylvania Senate panel this week began a series of public hearings throughout the state on the future of its cities, large and small.

At an Urban Affairs and Housing Committee gathering in the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, a councilman and Democratic candidate for mayor in that city, said pensions, economic development, education, and infrastructure and transportation are Pittsburgh's biggest challenges.

"We cannot continue to grow our tax base, attract new residents and create jobs unless we have healthy transportation networks and safe and viable infrastructure," Peduto said, according to Pittsburgh radio station WESA-FM. "While some progress has been made, for example, in reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges in the region, we still have over 300 deficient bridges in Allegheny County alone."

Other hearings have been scheduled for York and Reading.

Committee chairman David Argall, R- Tamaqua, said the goal of the panel is "to hear from different officials and organizations about issues our cities are facing and to work on ways to revitalize and assist in any way we can."

Pittsburgh, where Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is not seeking re-election, is one of three open-seat Pennsylvania general-election mayoral races this year. Chris Doherty is retiring in Scranton and Linda Thompson lost in Harrisburg's Democratic primary.

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