Commission tables vote on extending Mon-Fayette Expressway
March 20, 2017 5:46 PM
Residents attned a public meeting on the Mon-Fayette Expressway in August in West Mifflin.
By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission on Monday put off a vote on the future of the $1.6 billion extension of the Mon-Fayette Expressway to find out whether the money can be used for other projects in the region.
For decades, the expressway has been viewed as the savior for the Monongahela Valley. The roadway extension has gone through several redesigns, including eliminating a leg into Pittsburgh because of community opposition and its high price. The current design would extend the roadway from Jefferson Hills to the Parkway East and Business Route 22 in Monroeville.
But some members of the 10-county planning agency said they aren’t convinced that the project — which wouldn’t be finished for another 20 years — is the best solution for residents who need transportation solutions now.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who is secretary-treasurer of the commission and has reservations about the project, said at an SPC meeting Monday that the panel should ask the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission whether the earmarked money can be spent on other infrastructure and development.
Mr. Fitzgerald cited Route 43 in Jefferson, the Beaver Valley Expressway and Route 66 in New Stanton as tolled highway projects that could provide some answers.
“What were they predicted to [do] when they were built and how have those projections lived up to expectations?” he said.
Allegheny County member Clifford Levine agreed, saying, “I would like to hear whether highways being built in the last 10 years anywhere in the United States have actually helped this sort of older manufacturing-base communities or do they just allow traffic to bypass them and go on to greener pastures.”
Commission member Lynn Heckman of Allegheny County said she has been a longtime supporter of the Mon-Fayette Expressway, but “two decades more is a long time to wait. I just wonder if there isn’t an opportunity to revisit this in a way that will look at how we can get something much more quickly. The Mon Valley deserves excellent transportation. … A lot of stuff has changed since this project was conceived.
“What else can we do? We voted for these taxes and we pay our tolls. This region deserves that money, and we need to figure out what we can do to make something happen quickly.”
But Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Vicites argued against any delay, saying the expressway sections that have been completed need to be connected “all the way into Pittsburgh.”
“Stay the course,” he said. “We have fought very hard for many years to complete this in Fayette County. We thought everybody agreed on this over the years, that this would help improve our region, particularly the outlying counties. If this is not completed, then we will truly not be a region connected with our highways.”
He said delaying the vote was counterproductive.
“It needs to be fast-tracked,” he argued. “We’re not fast-tracking it at all, we’re side-tracking it.”
Allegheny County member Dave Miller bristled at the Turnpike Commission dictating the spending.
“This is our region, not the Turnpike Commission’s,” he said.
Member Tom Ceraso of Westmoreland County criticized the tabling of the vote, which was overwhelmingly approved by a voice vote.
“It’s not money that is part of our normal funding stream,” he said. “For us to sit and debate the what-ifs is erroneous, because we don’t have the option of moving that money around.”
Fewer than a dozen people took advantage of the opportunity to speak at the outset of the commission’s public hearing, most of them urging the project to be stopped and the funds be used to benefit residents who depend on public transportation. Supporters, on the other hand, said the highway would reduce congestion and be an economic boon in construction and engineering jobs.
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1456.
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