Rendell says entire Fayette expressway link will be built
NORTH UNION TOWNSHIP - As supporters applauded groundbreaking ceremonies Saturday that marked the beginning of construction of an expressway section in Fayette County, they alluded to the portion of the project still unfunded.
But Gov. Ed Rendell said the entire Uniontown-to-Brownsville link will be built.
Phase I, expected to open by spring 2009, will take traffic to the California part of the system using the existing Route 40 tie-in through downtown Brownsville. Phase I construction is estimated at $206 million.
Phase II will take the expressway across Route 40 near the village of Davidson and around Brownsville to a new bridge over the Monongahela River near Vesta No. 6. Phase II also will include the Telegraph Road interchange and the tie-ins to Route 88 and Old Route 88 on the Washington County side of the river.
But money has not yet been committed for Phase II construction - estimated at $321 million.
The stub was planned for local traffic access, but it now represents a deviation from the plan to construct 15.2 miles of continuous expressway through the heart of Fayette County.
Speaking to The Valley Independent immediately following the groundbreaking ceremony, Rendell said the state will pay to complete Phase II.
"We're still going to have to find a bit of money and we will," Rendell said following the event along Old Pittsburgh Road in North Union Township.
"Hopefully, within a year, we will have a groundbreaking for Phase II."
Both Rendell and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chief Executive Officer Joe Brimmeier told The Valley Independent that the entire Fayette County section will have priority over the Allegheny County portion of the highway - currently in the design stage.
"We will definitely complete the entire Uniontown-to-Brownsville section before we build into Pittsburgh," Brimmeier said.
The fact that half of the Fayette County section is yet unfunded did not go unnoticed.
As state officials spoke, to their right sat a map depicting the project -...the funded Phase I in yellow and Phase II in orange. An artist rendering of the Phase II bridge was to their left.
Connellsville resident Ron Gallo sat in the first row in the audience, holding a sign imploring the governor to find money for the entire Fayette County section.
"I want it built; I want it built in its entirety," Gallo said. "Everyone here is for this toll road. I am, too. I just want them to build the whole damn thing."
State officials, too, took note of the need to find more money for the project.
"There is one more race to run and we must find the funding to finish this project," state Sen. Richard Kasunic (D-Dunbar Township) said. "One day we will cut the ribbon when we have one highway all the way through Fayette County. We need to continue to work together and support each other.
"The work is not done."
State Rep. Peter J. Daley (D-California) noted that the Uniontown-to-Brownsville section was in question in 1992 when then-Gov. Robert Casey came to the Holiday Inn at Uniontown for a meeting attended by more than 300 residents. They overwhelmingly pleaded for the project to continue, a plea that touched Casey, Daley noted.
"If it wasn't for the people of Fayette County, we wouldn't be here today," Daley said.
State Sen. J. Barry Stout (D-Bentleyville) called the expressway and Southern Beltway "key projects for the future of southwestern Pennsylvania."
Kasunic recalled that he and Daley discussed their vision for the future of the region in the parking lot of The Valley Independent in 1982 when both were first seeking state office.
"Thank you Pete for your friendship and for working to make this happen," Kasunic said.
Kasunic said the event Saturday was vindication for those who have supported the expressway throughout the years.
"There were naysayers and there probably still are naysayers," Kasunic said. "To those naysayers, I say, "Can you hear me now?'"
Rendell said he heard from the naysayers as he campaigned for governor in 2002.
"I was told by a lot of people that this was a huge waste of money, that I should pull the plug," Rendell said.
Rendell, though, said he has supported the expressway, noting that infrastructure development is the single most important thing state government can do to create jobs.
"I said I'd be back and I'm here," Rendell said. "Let's go shovel some dirt."