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Mon-Fayette Project Alive; Turnpike to Hold Public Meetings

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
August 03, 2016
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Jon Dawson via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-No Derivatives

Seven years after halting work on the final stretch of the Mon-Fayette Expressway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is putting the project back into gear.

The commission has scheduled a series of public meetings to collect input from residents and business owners about a new proposal to push on with a segment of highway through the Mon-Yough area.

The first meeting is slated for 6 p.m. Aug. 9 at Skyview Volunteer Fire Department, just off Route 885 in West Mifflin.

Subsequent meetings will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 10 at Carlow University's St. Agnes Center on Fifth Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh; at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 in the gymnasium of Gateway Middle School, 4450 Old William Penn Hwy., Monroeville; and at 6 p.m. Aug. 17 in the auditorium of Woodland Hills Junior-Senior High School, 2250 Greensburg Pike, Churchill.

First proposed in the 1950s, the Mon-Fayette Expressway was envisioned as a link between Pittsburgh and Interstate 68 near Morgantown, W.Va.

The final, uncompleted 14-mile stretch from Route 51 in Jefferson Hills to the Parkway East in Monroeville would traverse the McKeesport, Duquesne and Braddock areas --- the most-populated stretch along the entire highway route, and arguably the most important segment in terms of economic development.

Plans to build a stretch of the expressway into the City of Pittsburgh have apparently been abandoned due to objections from residents, business owners and city leaders, according to published reports.

Construction first began on what became the Mon-Fayette Expressway in 1973, when crews started work on a section of highway near California, Washington County. It continued, in fits and starts, through the 1980s and 1990s.

But construction never began on the northern leg into Pittsburgh and through the McKeesport-Duquesne area. Instead, it bogged down due to difficulties acquiring property, environmental problems, and a lack of money.

The new push to complete the Mon-Fayette comes after the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2013 passed a sweeping transportation bill known as Act 89, which was designed to fund road and bridge repairs as well as new highway construction and mass transit.

As now envisioned by the Turnpike Commission, the Mon-Fayette would consist of 70 miles of toll road connecting to the Parkway East near Monroeville, then stretching south through the Turtle Creek and Mon valleys to Interstate 68 in Cheat Lake, W.Va.

In 2015, Sean Logan, a former state senator and Monroeville mayor who now chairs the Turnpike Commission, said plans to extend the Mon-Fayette through the City of Pittsburgh's Hazelwood and Oakland neighborhoods were being abandoned due to the expense, and due to objections from residents and businesses that would be displaced.

A coalition of business and industry groups, including the Mon-Yough Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mon Valley Progress Council, support the completion of the final leg of the highway, which they say will make former steel mill properties and other industrial sites --- so-called "brownfields" --- in McKeesport, Duquesne, Turtle Creek and other communities more attractive to developers.

Critics, including Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future and the Sierra Club, say the final leg of the Mon-Fayette is too expensive, will add to regional sprawl, and will increase air pollution and oil consumption.

A route for the final 14 miles was selected in 2004 and entered the final design stages in 2009 before work was abandoned due to lack of funding.

That proposed alignment would parallel Route 837 through West Mifflin, Dravosburg and Duquesne on the south bank of the Monongahela River to Kennywood; the highway would then cross the river into North Versailles, East Pittsburgh, Turtle Creek and Wilkins Twp. before connecting to the Parkway East.

A Turnpike spokesperson said the commission is seeking feedback on possible modifications to the route. Residents are invited to express "either concerns or support" for the project, the spokesperson said.

Anyone who needs additional information about accommodations, or wants to request special assistance should call Renee Colborn, manager of media and public relations for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, at (717) 939-9551. More information is also available on a new website, www.paturnpikemonfayette.com.

Photo of the Mon-Fayette Expressway in Fayette County by Jon Dawson via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-No Derivatives

Clarification: Although the Mon-Fayette was originally planned to enter the City of Pittsburgh, Turnpike officials in 2015 said they were dropping plans to build a leg of the highway through Hazelwood and Oakland. This story originally implied, incorrectly, that the City of Pittsburgh connection was still being pursued.

Originally published August 03, 2016.

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