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City won't completely reject toll road

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

Despite heavy opposition from Pittsburgh residents, the Murphy administration cannot voice total opposition to the Mon-Fayette Expressway, a city official said.

"Outright opposition of it would disenfranchise the city from the project," said Patrick Hassett, assistant city director for design and development. "It would then be built with no city input."

Hassett highlighted the city's strategies toward lessening the negative impact of the $4 billion tollway Tuesday night during the first of three public meetings scheduled this week. Last night's meeting was in Oakland, another is scheduled tonight at Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, and the third is Thursday at Burgwin Elementary School in Hazelwood, both at 7 p.m.

The Mon-Fayette Expressway is a proposed 75-mile toll road stretching from Interstate 68 in West Virginia to the Parkway East. About 4.5 miles of the roadway will be in Pittsburgh — from Bates Street in Oakland moving east along the Monongahela River to the city's edge.

In November, Mayor Tom Murphy sent a document detailing the city's guidelines for the development and design of the expressway to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Hassett said the city is considering the development along two tracks: one assuming the expressway will be constructed, and another considering alternatives to it since only $1.5 billion of the project's cost has been raised.

Critics of the expressway say it would increase traffic congestion into the city, pollute the area both visually and environmentally, and disrupt neighborhoods by taking property and dividing communities from the riverfront.

Among the proposals offered by the city:

  • Creation of a park-and-ride lot in Hazelwood at the former LTV Steel site. From there, shuttles would transport commuting workers to and from the city, and an adjacent water taxi and bike trail would offer further alternative modes of travel, Hassett said.

  • Creation of neighborhood review teams to revise and approve toll road designs. Hassett said the teams shouldn't be mere advisers, but should be allowed to make decisions.

  • A property buyout for any resident within 450 feet of the roadway who wants to be bought out. For every home lost to construction, the city suggests the purchase of a new home for that person or repayment of lost tax base to the city school district. Pittsburgh may take a $2.5 million tax hit from the project, Hassett said.

    As alternatives to the expressway, Hassett said the city is proposing expanding the current roadways, moving light-rail transit further east into the city, exploring the proposed high-speed maglev project, and the addition of a third tunnel to the existing Squirrel Hill Tunnels.

    Tom Buchele, director of the environmental law clinic at the University of Pittsburgh, said he was pleased that the mayor "is not assuming this will happen. I'm really glad to hear that."

    However, Buchele, who was representing the group Citizens for Alternatives to New Toll Roads, said he wished the city would shift all of its energies to focusing on alternatives.

    "The first thing the city should be saying is 'don't build this,'" he said.

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