Some hesitation, but local leaders see benefit of Penn Township turnpike interchange
Mary Etta Bertolino has lived on Route 130 in Penn Township since the 1950s, when it was a sleepy rural road.
“It was like the boondocks out there,” she said.
It’s changed a lot since then. Cars constantly zip by on the busy road. Construction equipment across the street heralds commercial development. And soon, there might be a turnpike interchange just up the street from her house.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has added cashless turnpike ramps in Penn Township to its 10-year plan, leaving local residents and officials considering the potential impacts.
Bertolino is happy to hear about it. At 89, she said she doesn’t expect to be around when the project is finished, but she hopes it will drive up property values so she can sell her home and leave the money to her family.
The proposed turnpike entrance and exit in the western portion of the county would fall between existing interchanges. It would be about 6 miles from the Monroeville interchange in Allegheny County and 4 miles from the existing Irwin interchange farther east in Westmoreland County.
Vital for development
For state Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, the commission’s decision is a long time coming.
“It’s something I’ve advocated for for over a decade,” he said. “It’s nice to finally see something concrete happening on the 10-year plan.”
Dunbar served as a township commissioner before being elected to the House of Representatives in 2010.
He, like other advocates of the project, believes connecting the township to the turnpike will be vital for sparking development while making life easier for many township residents who commute to Pittsburgh.
Township Manager Alex Graziani said he’s “thrilled” with the commission’s decision.
He credits the work done by Dunbar and state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, chairwoman of the Senate transportation committee, to bring a long-discussed idea one step closer to reality.
He also thanked the communities around Penn Township, all of which passed resolutions over the past year calling for the interchange. Those include North Huntingdon, Trafford, Irwin, Murrysville, Manor and Jeannette.
“Obviously, it’s a major milestone. The township has never been this close,” he said.
Jeff Shula, president of the township Board of Commissioners, isn’t ready to celebrate. He said he doesn’t want to voice an opinion about the project until its consequences are better understood.
“I don’t know what impact it will have if it goes through,” he said.
One concern is traffic. A 2017 feasibility study by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission found an extra 8,000 cars a day would travel on Route 130 to get to the turnpike ramps. That stretch of Route 130 now sees about 12,000 vehicles a day, according to PennDOT figures.
The study found it would cost about $38 million to widen Route 130 to accommodate the extra traffic, in addition to the $30 million required to build the ramps.
More traffic could mean more customers for local businesses, said Crystal Urban, who owns JCB Corner Store near the proposed interchange.
“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “I don’t think it will hurt us, and it might bring more business.”
Though the interchange is now officially in the turnpike commission’s plan, there’s a lot that needs to happen before it is a sure thing.
The turnpike commission, PennDOT, Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and local leaders will need to work together to establish a timetable, design the ramps, improve Route 130 and scrounge up the funding to pay for it all.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .