$550 million Southern Beltway project launches for Pennsylvania Turnpike
When the second leg of the Southern Beltway opens in five years, the Pennsylvania Turnpike will have spent $788 million to build 19 miles of highway that it anticipates just 7,500 motorists will use daily.
Turnpike officials and government leaders from both parties, including Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, consider it a wise investment. They insist the 13-mile second section connecting Interstate 79 and Route 22 in Washington County will help spur economic development and ease congestion across the region.
“This is a project we've all been anxious to see happen,” state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said on Monday at a ceremony marking the start of the $550 million project.
But Jake Haulk, president of the Castle Shannon-based Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, called the traffic forecast “peanuts.” He thinks the money for the segment would be better spent trying to eliminate bottlenecks on the Parkway East and Parkway West through measures such as road widening or building toll lanes for express traffic.
Up to 85,000 vehicles a day use the Parkway West, and up to 73,000 use the Parkway East daily, according to PennDOT data.
The Southern Beltway will let motorists from I-79 near the Allegheny County line with Washington County get to Pittsburgh International Airport without using the often congested Parkway West. It will extend the first Southern Beltway leg, which opened in 2006. Known as the Findlay Connector, the six-mile, $238 million section extends from I-376 near the Findlay airport to Route 22.
Turnpike data show the Findlay Connector is used by about 3,750 vehicles a day, a fraction of the 12,000 average daily vehicles that traffic studies predicted. The agency predicts the opening of the Southern Beltway's second leg will immediately double that traffic.
“I would have thought the real traffic problems were on the Parkways, not from people trying to get between Washington County and Pittsburgh International Airport,” Haulk said.
Although the Southern Beltway project was conceived in the 1980s, Corbett says it has taken on added importance in recent years with growth in Washington County and the emergence of the natural gas industry.
Many natural gas companies and related businesses are based in the sprawling Southpointe business park along I-79 in Cecil. The region is vying for a multibillion-dollar petrochemical plant in Beaver County.
“Access back and forth between the areas will be considerably shortened,” Corbett said.
The Southern Beltway project had been on hold for years. The $2.3 billion transportation funding package lawmakers adopted last year breathed life into it.
Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said the transportation package will increase funding for such “capacity-adding” projects from $18 million to $20 million annually to about $100 million a year.
Compton said it remains unknown how, or whether, the turnpike will be able to complete the third and final leg of the Southern Beltway — a 12.5-mile, $750 million section connecting I-79 and the Mon/Fayette Expressway. Also uncertain is whether work to finish the Mon/Fayette Expressway between Route 51 in Jefferson Hills and the Parkway East will proceed. It has an estimated price tag of about $4 billion.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike awarded the first two contracts for the Southern Beltway project in January. It is paying Miami-based CDR Maguire $15 million to manage construction and Mosites Construction Co. $14 million to build dual bridges that will carry the Southern Beltway over Route 22 in Robinson, Washington County.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Unsung backups provide boost for Steelers defensive line
- Penguins lose hard-fought game to Blue Jackets in overtime
- Former Pirates pitcher Happ agrees to $36 million, 3-year deal with Blue Jays
- Gilbert, son of ex-Pitt football standout, commits to Panthers
- Starkey: Flashback Friday for Pitt
- Body found in Allegheny River in Harrison
- Pitt falls flat in finale loss to Miami
- Unabashed church pastors put politics front and center
- Puppy, pals come to rescue of Lower Burrell firefighters
- Contractor eyes early finish to work on New Stanton interchange of Interstate 70
- Republicans roll dice as Trump headlines Pennsylvania Society event