Senate Transportation Committee meeting in Monroeville likely to address expressway
Friends and foes of the Mon/Fayette Expressway will have two forums this month.
One is the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast on May 17 at Westwood Golf Club.
State Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, announced the other, a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on May 30 at Community College of Allegheny County Boyce Campus in Monroeville.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman is wondering why anyone still is talking about the highway, also known as Turnpike 43.
“It's every bit as absurd now as it ever was,” Fetterman said. “It is a cutting edge of economic development from 1967. It's outdated, it's inappropriate and it would be a tremendous waste of resources.”
The forums come amid consideration of a $2.5 billion plan by Gov. Tom Corbett's transportation advisory committee to upgrade infrastructure and mass transit. Advocates of Turnpike 43 hope it will provide a mechanism by which funding can be secured for the long-debated and delayed limited-access expressway.
Hearing organizers hope for an 11 a.m. start time on May 30 and the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce blocked off 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for use of the campus auditorium.
“Sen. Brewster's office asked for our help in finding a location and getting the word out,” chamber president Frank Horrigan said.
“I went to (committee majority chairman) Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery County) and asked him if he could consider a hearing,” Brewster said Wednesday in an interview with The Daily News.
Rafferty told Brewster, a committee member, that he could schedule a hearing about various issues.
“We know that the Port Authority is a major issue in terms of funding,” Brewster said.
“Our membership has been telling us that they are interested in more robust bus service and that the cuts that happened in the last go round with (Port Authority) took a big bite out of this service in the eastern suburbs,” Horrigan said.
Fetterman said transportation policy should be directed toward shoring up existing resources, to light-rail transit and help for a Port Authority “that constantly is having near-death incidents.”
Senate Bill 1, Rafferty's interpretation of the governor's plan, received an initial thumbs up on Tuesday from Brewster and 12 other committee members, with the only no vote coming from Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar Township.
Brewster is among 28 co-sponsors of SB 1. Others include committee minority chairman Sen. John Wozniak, D-Johnstown; Senate president pro tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson County; and Sen. Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg.
“This is probably our generational chance to be able to affect infrastructure and transportation policy,” Horrigan said. “This is our chance to make a difference.”
Brewster expects PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch, Wozniak and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, to attend.
Brewster said Schoch “has been an incredible secretary. He has done a great job.”
Brewster expects Joe Kirk of the Mon Valley Progress Council will testify about Turnpike 43.
Brewster wants to see the expressway extended from Route 51 in Jefferson Hills to the Parkway East (Interstate 376) in Monroeville and Wilkins Township.
Some expressway proponents also want to see the highway fork off and connect with I-376 in Hazelwood — a move that could affect Braddock and other communities along the Mon's north shore.
“How would you like a four-lane highway coming through your community?” Fetterman asked.
Horrigan stressed that he did not want to make a “guns or butter” choice between transit and the turnpike extension.
“The chamber's position is that we are in favor of the Mon/Fayette Expressway and we are in favor of a more built out, comprehensive surface transportation service out in the eastern suburbs of Allegheny County,” Horrigan said.
Fetterman said the expressway will cost $10 billion and take 25-30 years to complete.
“Think what $10 billion could do for the region as a whole,” the Braddock mayor said.
Fetterman remembers being able to get on a commuter train that used to link McKeesport and Braddock “and be in downtown Pittsburgh in 15 minutes.” He would like to see the East Busway extended from its present Rankin culmination point into Braddock.
Brewster sees the expressway as an economic generator that could be parlayed into jobs, but he's also interested in helping his constituents in Braddock, one of 38 municipalities in his 45th District.
“I am going to do everything I can to help the mayor and council to bring that borough back,” Brewster said. “I have the utmost respect for Mayor Fetterman. That is why we are having a hearing here.”
The May 30 hearing is open to the public.
Non-members must pay a $15 admission fee for the Mon Yough Area Chamber's May 17 breakfast.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.