Heyl: Possible Kennywood expansion selling point for pricey expressway plan
Let's get this out of the way: Extending the little-used Mon/Fayette Expressway would be a colossal waste of money.
But if the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission proceeds with this $1.75 billion boondoggle, it has a powerful public relations weapon at its disposal to quiet opposition to the project.
Potentially, lengthening the toll road could lead to an expansion of Kennywood.
The turnpike commission revived plans to extend the expressway 14 miles from its current terminus at Route 51 in Jefferson Hills to the Parkway East in Monroeville. One municipality it would pass through is West Mifflin, home to a certain amusement park with a fiercely loyal following and a kangaroo mascot.
Plans for the extension are about as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But it never was built, owing to a lack of money and the fact that the expressway leg between Jefferson Hills and Washington County is so deserted, the passing lane isn't needed.
Those plans included an interchange to be built at the West Mifflin-Duquesne border on Kennywood's doorstep. When the park's previous owners erroneously thought the expressway might become a reality in 2004, they purchased nearly 50 acres more of nearby land to potentially expand the park.
Kennywood bought the 25-acre former Duquesne Shopping Center across Hoffman Boulevard from its parking lot that used to be anchored by a Kmart. It purchased 23 acres from Union Railroad that sits in a ravine behind the Racer roller coaster and is used to store old ride equipment.
Excited about the acquisitions, Kennywood officials showed off plans for ambitious additions to the park — a hotel, indoor water park, additional parking and improved access roads. But the expansion was contingent on the expressway being built, and when it wasn't, those plans vanished about as quickly as the equilibrium of riders on the Black Widow.
Much has changed since 2004. Kennywood was sold to Spain-based entertainment company Parques Reunidos. The park added rides such as the aforementioned Black Widow and Sky Rocket.
But it still owns nearly 50 acres of dramatically underutilized property. Might the revival of the expressway extension signal a revival of the expansion?
Kennywood spokesman Nick Paradise wouldn't rule it out, but called such talk premature.
“Obviously, having an exit ramp directly at our front door would be great and make the park much more accessible,” he said. “While the news (of the extension) is encouraging, I think we're taking a kind of wait-and-see approach as to what it might ultimately mean.”
At the least, it means the Turnpike commission has a strong selling point for this expressway extension. It can expect opposition to throwing $1.75 billion down the drain. But who would oppose enlarging one of the nation's most beloved traditional family amusement parks?
Eric Heyl is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or firstname.lastname@example.org.