Fayette commissioners: Pittsburgh portion of expressway is vital
Two Fayette County commissioners said Wednesday that failure to build the Pittsburgh portion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway would deal a blow to the hoped-for development the impoverished county sees as coming from the toll road.
The commissioners' comments were made in reaction to critical remarks made Tuesday by Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy at public hearings on the road in Monroeville.
"We want the Pittsburgh section built. (The road is) vitally important to the development of Fayette County," Commissioner Vincent Vicites said.
Murphy spokesman Craig Kwiecinski said the mayor wants to support the roadway because of benefits to the region, but he has received about 300 letters from city residents who are critical of the expressway project.
"He cannot ignore those concerns," Kwiecinski said.
Commissioner Ronald Nehls said congestion may be a valid concern of Pittsburgh residents.
"But this road will be good for southwestern Pennsylvania, so let's work it out. I'm saying let's be open-minded," he said.
Built for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, sections of the planned $4 billion, 80-mile roadway are already complete and in use in Allegheny, Washington and Fayette counties.
If completed, the road would link Interstate 68 in Morgantown, W.Va., to Pittsburgh by way of Uniontown and Brownsville, and then run parallel to the Monongahela River through Allegheny County. From Duquesne, it would split, with one section linking to the Turnpike in Monroeville and another to the Parkway East near the Oakland exit.
Vicites and Nehls said they anticipate the road, if completed as planned, will spark economic renewal in an area once known for its coal seams that played out four and five decades ago.
According to the 2000 Census, 28 percent of Fayette County's children live in poverty - second only to Philadelphia in state rankings.
Vicites said he believes that the county will grow each of the next five decades - provided it gets its first limited-access highway.
Nehls said the sprawl that Murphy derides could be the economic salvation of families in poverty in Fayette.
While the Pittsburgh section of the road has been mired in controversy since road corridors were announced, few naysayers have surfaced in the development of the road in Fayette County.
Still to be built is an 11-mile section from Uniontown to Brownsville. According to Vicites, construction on that section is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2004 or 2005.
Nehls said he fervently hopes that if the Pittsburgh link gets bogged down in problems it will not delay the Uniontown-to-Brownsville link.
"This will be the county it could be if we get that link," he said.
Kwiecinski said Murphy has consistently stated that the road would lead to sprawl and more congestion, and would not help the city.
However, he said the mayor feels he could be swayed if several changes are made to the preliminary roadway design.
Kwiecinski said that if changes are made to interchanges at Bates Street and the Glenwood Bridge, if the integrity of the neighborhood of Hazlewood is protected, if the road is moved away from the shuttered LTV coke works, if it can be built quickly, and if it does not siphon funding from other transportation projects, then Murphy can support the road.
Murphy likened the road to Interstate 279 North, which he said led to development and sprawl in Butler County at the expense of Pittsburgh.
"He's concerned about being a good partner for development in the region, but his first duty is to the residents of the City of Pittsburgh," Kwiecinski said.
Most important on the list is that the road be moved off the 178-acre LTV site, Kwiecinski said.
"That's the last major riverfront parcel we have for development," he said.
Junker is a reporter for the Tribune-Review.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.