Another leg of expressway will open this week
By week's end, a new section of the Mon-Fayette Expressway will open to traffic, but on Sunday it belonged to the bikers, skaters and walkers.
"You don't have to worry about anybody running you over," said bicyclist Jeff Hudak of Monroeville as he and his wife, Aleda, took a breather midway through their 26-mile trek.
"Usually cars aren't too courteous."
The Hudaks were among the thousands of people who showed up to get a look at the new 13-mile stretch of toll road Sunday afternoon.
As a hawk wheeled high above the new pair of bridges over Route 51 and anglers dropped their lines in Peters Creek far below, curious people got their first and last chance to see the road at a pace that allows them to stop and enjoy the scenery.
Adrienne Briggs of Jefferson Hills came with her husband and two young children to walk the bridge.
She said her family, especially her 3-year-old son Adam, often have stopped to watch the work in progress.
"We had to come. We've watched the construction from the beginning," she said. "It's the one day we can actually came and walk on what we used to watch."
While the self-propelled people took to the northbound portion of the expressway, hundreds line up for bus tours running on the other side.
The turnout for the bus tours - which lasted about an hour and featured tour guides who pointed out land marks and explained details of the project - was so high that the four Port Authority buses lined up for the day proved insufficient.
By 1 p.m., three more busses had arrived and organizers were trying to get more.
Besides the Route 51 and Coyle Curtin Road sites, people boarded the buses and accessed the road at the Finleyville-Elrama Road and Route 136 interchanges.
Joe Agnello, a spokesman for the state Turnpike Commission, which is in charge of the multi-billion dollar toll road, said the popularity of the event was not entirely unexpected.
A similar event at the Mason-Dixon link of the expressway, which connects Interstate 68 in West Virginia to State Route 43 near Fairchance, Fayette County, attracted about 5,000 people, Agnello said.
He estimated that at least 3,000 to 5,000 people had visited the expressway open house by 1 p.m.
"We kind of knew if the weather cooperated we'd have a real nice turnout," he said.
The Mon-Fayette Expressway was conceived about 40 years ago to ease traffic on the then-prosperous Mon Valley.
Agnello said the Turnpike Commission hopes the entire toll road will be completed in another eight to 10 years.
When the newest piece of the toll road opens to motorized traffic on Friday at 3 p.m., about half the $4 billion, 78-mile Mon-Fayette Expressway will be operational.
When completed, the expressway will link Interstate 68 in West Virginia to the Parkway East in Pittsburgh and Monroeville.
According to Turnpike Commission officials, the newly completed stretch, plus a four-mile part of the expressway between I-70 and Coyle Curtain Road, cost $588 million.
Initially, about 3,700 cars are expected to use the interchange onto the toll road at Route 51 in Jefferson Hills. Turnpike commission officials estimate that within 30 years, 17,800 cars will use the toll road. However, those estimates also assume that the entire expressway will be open, including the "Pittsburgh leg" - 25 miles between Jefferson Hills and Pittsburgh.
That leg still is in the planning stage and the exact route has not been determined or approved.
The Turnpike Commission will open the 13 miles of the Mon-Fayette Expressway between Route 51 in Jefferson Hills and Coyle Curtin Road in Fallowfield Township on Friday.
After that, more than half of the 80-mile toll road will be open to traffic. The road will ultimately go from Interstate 68 in West Virginia to the Parkway East on either side of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.