Development, toll road project expected to impact traffic in Peters

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West McMurray Road in Peters could become a four-lane highway in the coming years, as a spate of development continues in the area.

In recent comments to the state Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Peters manager Michael Silvestri spells out his concerns about upcoming projects and how they will affect the already congested road.

The $1 billion Cool Valley mixed-use development in Cecil is expected to increase traffic significantly on West McMurray, as is the second leg of the Southern Beltway, set to begin construction soon.

Just east of Interstate 79 near Southpointe, the 900-acre Cool Valley development is expected to include 1,400 residential units, 350 hotel rooms and about 3 million square feet for offices, retail and flex space.

As the project progresses in phases for the next 17 years, planners think that 10 percent of the retail traffic and two percent of the office traffic will use West McMurray Road, with 20 of the retail users and 25 of the office traffic accessing the site via Georgetown Road. That translates to about 61 additional vehicles on West McMurray during the afternoon rush hour, with about 459 additional cars on Georgetown in the same time frame.

The average daily traffic on West McMurray is pegged at about 11,425 vehicles, with 5,423 vehicles using Georgetown daily.

The traffic information regarding Cool Valley was discussed at a recent meeting between the developer, local and PennDOT officials, where the scope of an upcoming traffic study was discussed. The developer needs the study to gain PennDOT approval for the project.

Because of the limited access to the site, Mr. Silvestri is concerned that the percentages are skewed and don't present a realistic forecast of what to expect when the site is built out. And, he is concerned that there are no new intersections being proposed for Georgetown Road, which becomes Valley Brook Road in Peters.

"The addition of several hundred peak hour vehicles on Valley Brook Road, especially at the new Route 19 intersection, should certainly be considered for study given the multimillion-dollar investment currently being made at this location," Mr. Silvestri said in a Feb. 18 letter to state Department of Transportation district executive Joseph Szczur.

Mr. Silvestri was referring to a major reconstruction project slated to begin in May that will reconfigure the intersection between Valley Brook and Route 19. The heavily used intersection is expected to be closed for most of the summer, exacerbating traffic elsewhere in the township.

He asked Mr. Szczur to include several other Peters intersections in the traffic study, such as the one between McMurray Road and Route 19.

But Mr. Silvestri's strongest opinions were reserved for turnpike officials, who are seeking public comment right now on a plan to build the second leg of the Southern Beltway, a 13.3-mile route which would originate along Interstate 79, between Bridgeville and Southpointe, and end at Route 22 near the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Though the $632.5 million project will ease congestion on the Parkway West and will make it easier for local motorists to access the airport, it could cause "key consequences," in places like Peters, Mr. Silvestri said.

The primary feeder roads to the southern portion of the Beltway likely will be West McMurray, Georgetown/Valley Brook roads and Maple Lane.

"This is a two-lane road and is the major link between Route 19 and Interstate 79," Mr. Silvestri said about West McMurray.

By 2028, the average daily traffic is expected to increase to 16,600 without the beltway connection, making the road a traffic failure, according to traffic engineering standards, he said.

"The amount of traffic will be significantly higher with the connection," he said. "Consideration should be given to upgrade West McMurray Road by either increasing the width to four lanes and making capacity augmentation to the intersection with Route 19. If a four-lane addition is not possible, then key improvements to certain intersections is needed including Morganza/West McMurray roads and Oakwood/West McMurray roads."

A traffic roundabout could be one solution for Oakwood and West McMurray roads, he said.

Because only the second leg of the beltway is being proposed, it will negatively impact traffic, Mr. Silvestri said, "causing more traffic to funnel through Peters Township to get to the connection at the county line."

Mr. Silvestri said a local 2008 traffic study identified numerous road improvements that are needed, but it also presumed that the beltway would be fully built, from the airport to the Mon-Fayette Expressway in Finleyville. That final, 12-mile leg connecting Route 43 and the airport remains on the back burner while funding sources are explored. If the entire beltway had been constructed, it would have helped ease traffic congestion in Peters, he said.

The first six-mile leg of the project, connecting Route 22 to the airport, was completed in October 2006, and plans for the remainder of the 31-mile tolled expressway between the Mon Valley and the airport were thought to be all but dead in recent years, when private funding that the turnpike commission hoped for didn't materialize.

But with a funding strategy now in place, the commission is finishing its purchases of rights-of-way and properties from local homeowners that began three years ago and it is preparing final plans and bid documents for construction of the second leg.

It hopes to bid the project this year and begin construction next year, with a tentative completion date in 2021.

Major funding sources include $158.9 million in cash on hand from the turnpike commission, $129.9 million through a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, and $169.2 million in bond funding.

The public input process was initiated by the Southwest Pennsylvania Commission, which is considering adding the project to its regional 2013-16 Transportation Improvement Program and Long Range Transportation Plan.

In a March 13 letter to the SPC reiterating his comments, Mr. Silvestri asked for traffic impact studies to be completed and improvements made before construction begins.

The SPC is expected to consider the public comments and decide on April 29 whether to adopt the project. The SPC is the regional planning agency for the 10-county region surrounding Pittsburgh, and it allocates all federal and state funding dollars for transportation and economic development projects.

Transportation - neigh_south - neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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