Mon/Fayette Expressway advocates optimistic
Advocates of moving the Mon/Fayette Expressway north of Route 51 see hope in legislation setting aside funds for new infrastructure.
“There is strong possibility that the Turnpike Commission could use a portion of that set-aside to advance some part of the 51-to-Pittsburgh expressway project,” Mon Valley Progress Council executive director Joe Kirk said.
Foes such as Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future or PennFuture see other priorities.
“We have a huge transportation challenge for the state of Pennsylvania with our existing roads and bridges,” PennFuture president George Jugovic Jr. said. “That would not include building a highway through the Mon/Fayette communities.”
An area lawmaker sees Mon/Fayette or Turnpike 43 as a part of an overall plan.
“We must find real dollars to build roads, bridges and pay for mass transit because these are important to our economy and job creation,” Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, told the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 6.
“Finding dollars to complete work on the Mon/Fayette and ensuring that our mass transit systems are supported must be a focus of the funding package,” he said.
In Gov. Tom Corbett's plan for transportation funding, $85 million would be added each year, part of it to complete Act 61 of 1985 projects.
Kirk said it could be leveraged through bonding and public-private partnerships to accelerate construction.
Much attention is being given to the Southern Beltway, which would link Turnpike 43 at Finleyville with Turnpike 576 near Imperial and Pittsburgh International Airport.
Act 61 also raised the priority of Turnpike 43, including a stretch still estimated at $4 billion between Route 51 in Jefferson Hills and Interstate 376 (Penn-Lincoln Parkway) at Second Avenue in Pittsburgh and Business 22 in Wilkins Township and Monroeville.
The highway would cross the Monongahela River near Kennywood Park and break off in two directions.
“You look at what Kennywood has been doing in terms of investments at their site,” Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce president Maury Burgwin said. “If they can get that road, it turns Kennywood into a national entertainment destination.”
The rest of that $85 million would match PennDOT funding of potential slip ramp connections or interchanges that take EZPass toll payments. Earlier this month Kirk was the guest speaker at a Mon Yough Area Chamber meeting.
“We sit on some of the largest tracts of developable industrial and commercial properties on any riverfront in the eastern United States,” Burgwin said. “That road would be a catalyst to humongous new business investment in this region, and jobs.”
PennFuture long has disagreed. In “Transportation Planning: Beyond the Mon/Fayette Toll Road,” it said “independent analyses have demonstrated that the purported benefits to the one-size-fits-all project don't come close to justifying the costs.”
Jugovic sees a multi-modal mix from bicycle and hiking trails “to transportation corridors that allow traffic to move smoothly and can carry up to four lanes of traffic but not obliterate businesses.”
Kirk sees the expressway extending the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway that now ends at the Rankin Bridge.
“It could have a very positive multi modal impact,” the Mon Valley Progress Council director said.
Kirk said the concept of a toll road from Route 51 to Pittsburgh “met federal standards for environmental and traffic concerns.” He said it “will provide access to nine major brownfield sites (and) improve access to communities up and down the Mon Valley.”
Kirk said he does not see any impact on Turnpike 43 efforts from recent state grand jury indictments, including those of former Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow, D-Scranton, former Turnpike Commission CEO Joseph Brimmeier and former turnpike employee Raymond Zajicek of Liberty.
“There is an entirely new leadership team at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission,” Kirk said. “They are basically reviewing all contracting procedures … to assure that there is no relationship between political contributions and the awarding of contracts.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or [email protected].