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Mon-Fayette Expressway decision delayed

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 5:45 p.m.

Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission members will wait before deciding whether to include the Mon-Fayette Expressway completion in their long range plan.

The proposed project would connect I-376 near Monroeville with Route 51 in Jefferson Hills at an estimated cost of $2.16 billion, according to Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission records. It's the last leg in a three-decade effort by the Turnpike Commission to link I-68 near Morgantown and I-376.

Commissioners from the 10-county planning agency joined several public commentors Monday in questioning the value of the dated plan.

Chief among concerns voiced was whether the extension would help or hurt development in the economically depressed Mon Valley; whether the turnpike can guarantee funding for the 20-year project; and whether past turnpike construction projects in the region delivered on projections about economic growth and development.

Some commissioners also said they were troubled by what they described as turnpike officials inability to address such concerns during a SPC meeting in January.

“They were so deficient that I would be in no position today to vote to put this on the (Transportation Improvement Plan,)” said Dave Miller, an Allegheny County representative on the commission and director of the Center for Metropolitan Studies at University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Turnpike officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Tribune-Review.

Several commissioners and members of the public who spoke against the extension contended the project's proposed funding could be better spent improving development and transportation in the Mon Valley through other means.

Commissioner Tom Ceraso, assistant manager at Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, pointed out the funding at stake would come from the turnpike commission. He questioned suggestions that it could be spent improving the region's transportation infrastructure in other ways.

“It's not like we're moving this money around and doing buses with it and doing feeder roads with it,” he said.

Ceraso also urged board members to think about the potential regional benefits of the plan, not just benefits for the Mon Valley.

Vincent Vicites, chairman of Fayette County's Board of Commissioners, said the already-constructed southern portions of the expressway in his county won't realize their full benefit unless the extension to I-376 is completed.

The Turnpike Commission's website about the expressway describes the project as a decades-long effort to “help spur redevelopment” in the Mon Valley following the decline of steel, coal and coke industries.

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1290 or mwalton@tribweb.com.

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