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Officials forming alliance to reap beltway benefits

| Thursday, March 29, 2001

Officials in municipalities that will be affected by the Southern Beltway are putting their heads together to ensure that the proposed toll road allows access to each community.

Upper St. Clair Township Manager Doug Watkins has taken the lead in forming a Southern Beltway Access Alliance, which could include Peters and South Fayette townships.

'We can't afford to rest while discussion continues,' Watkins told commissioners Monday.

The Southern Beltway is a proposed 30-mile toll road from state Route 60 at Pittsburgh International Airport going south to U.S. Route 22, and then southwest along the Allegheny-Washington county line.

The beltway would end in Union Township at the Mon-Fayette Expressway, a toll road from Morgantown, W.Va., to Route 51 in Pleasant Hills and ultimately to the Parkway East. The beltway still is on the drawing board, but parts of the expressway currently are under construction.

The beltway will not go through Upper St. Clair, but Watkins said the township still has interests that need to be served by the beltway.

'I think this is the way to go,' Commissioner Brad Tupi said at the meeting.

Watkins said he already has talked to South Fayette about the alliance. South Fayette Township Manager Michael Hoy said he hadn't discussed the alliance with the township commissioners and was letting Upper St. Clair take the lead.

A beltway interchange is planned for U.S. Route 19. There will either be a direct interchange to that main artery through the South Hills, or an interchange at a feeder road to Route 19.

Two interchanges are planned in South Fayette. One will be on a feeder road to state Route 50 .

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman Tom Fox said there also will be an interchange with Interstate 79 near the current Bridgeville interchange on state Route 50.

For years, officials in Upper St. Clair have been hoping for a connector from Boyce Road directly to I-79.

Currently, there is no direct access to I-79 from Upper St. Clair. Motorists must take Boyce Road, then Washington Pike to the Bridgeville interchange of the highway.

Watkins conceded that with the development of the Southern Beltway, the plans for the Boyce connector withered on the vine.

But even if there is access from Upper St. Clair to the Southern Beltway, it will not be completed until the end of the decade, and that's too long of a wait for one local lawmaker.

'I don't know that the people of Upper St. Clair should have to wait eight to 10 years for the benefit of the Southern Beltway,' said state Rep. John Maher, an Upper St. Clair Republican.

Maher said a Boyce Road connector is necessary regardless of whether the township has access to the beltway.

PennDOT would be responsible for building a connector. Fox said studies done by the Turnpike Commission have established that the beltway would not affect traffic on Boyce Road for better or for worse.

Fox said the beltway could be built to accommodate a connector from Boyce Road.

Vince Guerrieri can be reached at vguerrieri@tribweb.com or at (412) 306-4533.

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