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Pa. legislators rally in support of Mon-Fayette Expressway extension

| Friday, June 9, 2017, 10:27 p.m.
A lone car travels the Mon-Fayette Expressway between Brownsville and Uniontown. (Trib photo)
A lone car travels the Mon-Fayette Expressway between Brownsville and Uniontown. (Trib photo)

The Mon-Fayette Expressway extension from Jefferson Hills to Monroeville is a “once in a generation opportunity” to foster economic growth, a group of state legislators say.

“Completing the next leg of the expressway to Interstate 376, and eventually the airport, would kick start economic development in the Mon Valley in a very aggressive way,” a bipartisan group of two dozen state House and Senate lawmakers wrote in a letter.

They want officials at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the Turnpike Commission and PennDOT to stay the course on the long-standing project.

The letter shows the tug-of-war over having the SPC include the expressway in its long-term plan. The Turnpike Commission has said it is up to local officials to determine whether to move forward. If it doesn't, the $2.2 billion earmarked for the project can be used for other turnpike projects.

Last week, a competing group of legislators said the SPC made the right move to delay the project and hope the money could be put toward the Southern Beltway project south of Pittsburgh.

The Monroeville extension is part of a 30-year effort to build a 74-mile expressway from Interstate 68 near Morgantown, W.Va., to the Parkway East in Monroeville.

“I can assure you our children and grandchildren are going to benefit from what it will do with our economy,” said Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, a main proponent of the Monroeville extension. “Anybody who doesn't see that, I'm not sure what they're thinking. Yes, it's expensive. That's why I voted for Act 89, because we needed the money.”

Act 89 is a major transportation infrastructure funding bill signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013. The law, which received bipartisan support, raises billions of dollars for infrastructure projects through an increase in a wholesale gasoline tax and licenses and fees.

Brewster said not only would the finished Monroeville extension project bring more development in the long run, but the construction itself — it could take at least 10 years — would provide thousands of jobs.

“We're looking at potentially 20,000 jobs,” he told the Tribune-Review. “Imagine going to our labor folks and say we have a job that may last 10 years.”

Some 20 municipal, county and state officials submitted letters of support for the project.

Supporters also point to residents along the proposed route whose home values have been affected and who have been forced to sell their properties for less.

“Abandoning this project now means all of this would be for nothing,” the lawmakers' letter states. “We owe our taxpayers and all those who have sacrificed and worked so hard for decades on this road far better than that.”

Kevin Zwick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2856, or via Twitter @kevinjzwick.

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