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Turnpike commission: Southern Beltway takes priority over Mon/Fayette plans

Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Mon/Fayette Expressway (Turnpike 43) culminates at an interchange with Route 51 in Jefferson Hills. On Tuesday the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission approved a request for proposals for environmental services as part of the design process for expanding the expressway from Route 51 to Interstate 376 in Monroeville.

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Saturday, March 1, 2014, 12:56 a.m.

Planned expansion of the Southern Beltway from Route 22 to Interstate 79 in Allegheny and Washington counties spurred a new bid to expand the Mon/Fayette Expressway from Route 51 to Monroeville.

Resolutions from Mon Valley Progress Council urging a Mon/Fayette plan were passed in Monroeville and Dravosburg in February, advocating the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission “to develop, by the end of 2014, a financing plan and construction schedule” for work needed north of Jefferson Hills.

“We did this back in 2001 and secured 19 resolutions,” Mon Valley Progress Council director Joe Kirk said. “We also secured a resolution with unanimous support from Allegheny County Council.”

The turnpike commission dismissed such lobbying, saying it must work first on a 12-mile, half-billion-dollar Southern Beltway extension.

“It will provide better access to sites being developed by the Allegheny County Airport Authority and a direct link from I-79 to more than 4,000 acres of private, untapped commercial and industrial lands,” commission chairman William K. Lieberman said on Jan. 13 as two contracts were awarded.

The resolutions passed in February point to nearly 1,000 acres of brownfield development in the old McKeesport and Duquesne millsites and Keystone Commons, the old Westinghouse complex in Turtle Creek and East Pittsburgh.

“An estimated 1,500 firms would benefit from improved access provided,” the resolutions state.

A turnpike spokesman denied the commission is writing off Mon/Fayette. “We intend to fulfill that obligation (in Act 61 of 1985 but) because of the cost of these projects and the revenue stream that is available we are focusing our resources on the Southern Beltway,” spokesman Carl DeFabo said.

The Mon/Fayette resolutions call for local officials to send copies to area lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett, but the governor will not intervene.

“Act 89 (of 2013, the transportation funding act) does provide additional investment to the turnpike and the governor will look to the Pennsylvania turnpike commissioners to determine which improvements are best suited given current and future revenues,” Corbett spokesman Steve Chizmar said.

The resolution from Dravosburg was sent to state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, and Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, as well as the governor.

Brewster could not be reached for comment. Kortz reiterated his belief that completion of the Mon/Fayette Expressway would benefit the region.

However, Kortz added, “the problem we are faced with is a lack of funds necessary to complete this worthy project.”

Dravosburg's solicitor said he is not surprised that more prosperous communities in the Pittsburgh International Airport corridor are getting attention ahead of poorer Mon Valley communities.

“The reality is that the Mon Valley is always last,” Solicitor George Gobel said. “We don't get equal treatment.”

Kirk, 63, is a long-time voice of the mid-Mon Valley, beginning in 1985 when he returned from South Carolina for a faculty job at California University of Pennsylvania.

With roots in the lower Mon Valley, Kirk said, “I always wanted to see progress north of 51. I grew up in Swissvale. I used to shop in Braddock. I used to play football on fields in Duquesne and Clairton.”

He said he worked during his college days as a janitor at OH5, one of the open hearth furnaces at the old U.S. Steel Homestead District Works. His two brothers also worked in the mills, one in Clairton and the other for U.S. Steel at Christy Park in McKeesport.

Kirk said he has been in touch with other municipalities by telephone and/or electronic mail about the current round of resolutions.

Duquesne may not be on the list. City manager Frank Piccolino said a resolution “did not cross our desk yet.”

West Mifflin has not dealt with a formal resolution, but Mon/Fayette has been a topic there since a Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast in May and a subsequent borough council work session where a majority provided consensus support.

“Now that we know that the funding is there we need to explore that again because it could be a tremendous asset to West Mifflin,” borough manager Brian Kamauf said.

Chambers of commerce in McKeesport and Monroeville reiterated their support for expanding the expressway north, but not necessarily for the resolution process.

“We as the chamber don't necessarily agree with all the tactics involved but we are behind the strategy behind it,” Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce president Frank Horrigan said.

“It needs to be a coalition effort,” Mon Yough Area Chamber CEO Maury Burgwin said. “Hopefully we can get everyone to the table.”

Horrigan wants a unified effort from Southwestern Pennsylvania lawmakers and cooperation with other regions. “There are people in the eastern part of the state who do not want this to happen because it takes money from what they want.”

The first money handed out for the Southern Beltway work includes $15 million to Miami-based CDR Maguire for project management and $14 million to Mosites Construction of Robinson Township for a bridge over Route 22.

Officials said the earliest the 12-mile stretch could be open is 2019 or 2020.

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