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Councilman pushes for transit over toll road

| Saturday, June 15, 2002

A freshman city councilman Friday called for alternatives to the Mon-Fayette Expressway's proposed entrance into Pittsburgh that weighs transit as an option.

Councilman William Peduto said the billions of dollars set aside to link the expressway with the city near Oakland could be spent on other much-needed transportation improvements, such as expanding light rail and enhancing existing roads.

"Before we make this massive investment, we should at least examine the alternatives," said Peduto, who represents the northern Squirrel Hill and Oakland areas of the city.

Peduto has joined an effort by PennFuture — a city-based group opposed to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's highway plan — to craft options to the expressway's entrance into the city near Hazelwood. He also is a member of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the region's transportation planning agency.

The councilman said the Turnpike Commission should consider the planning agency's three key studies in the works that look at transit improvements. The studies focus on a transit option in the eastern suburbs, airport corridor and the overall Pittsburgh region.

The Turnpike Commission is building the 100-mile network of toll roads from Interstate 68 in West Virginia to Pittsburgh, along with a spur to Monroeville and another to Pittsburgh International Airport, known as the Southern Beltway. The package will cost $4 billion to build.

The segment through Allegheny County — often referred to as the Route 51-to-Pittsburgh leg — would stretch 24 miles through the Mon Valley. A required document detailing the effects of the project, called a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, was released May 31.

Joining Peduto at the morning news conference yesterday at the City-County Building, Downtown, was Carnegie Mellon University's Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development.

Florida said his research shows that professionals who live and work in Pittsburgh want better transit options rather than new toll highways.

"In all of our focus groups and interviews, this is the kind of thing that would make them want to leave Pittsburgh," Florida said. "Just because we planned this for 40 years doesn't make it right."

After learning of Peduto's statement yesterday, one of the highway project's most vocal supporters said looking at alternatives is part of the ongoing process.

"We welcome the opportunity to talk with Councilman Peduto," said Joe Kirk, executive director of the Mon Valley Progress Council. "We invite him to participate in the process. We can't comment on his alternative because we haven't seen it yet."

The Turnpike Commission's document is available for public review and comment for 75 days. The time period will include four informational meetings and three public hearings. The next meeting will be held Tuesday in Braddock.

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