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McKeesport Adds Council's Support to Mon-Fayette Project

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
May 07, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport City Council added its voice to those of other Mon-Yough municipalities urging the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to restart work on the final stretch of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

At Wednesday's meeting, council by 7-0 vote passed a resolution offering the "unwavering support" of Mayor Mike Cherepko and council members toward the completion of the toll road from Interstate 68 near Morgantown, W.Va., to Interstate 376 near Monroeville.

The 14-mile segment from Route 51 in Jefferson Hills to the Parkway East near Monroeville has been estimated to cost anywhere from $1.7 billion to $2 billion, according to published reports.

"This has been a roller-coaster for years," Cherepko said. "The bottom line, in my opinion, is that this is a critical component in seeing the entire Mon Valley region flourish."

"I hope our officials continue to push for this, and I hope it comes to fruition in the near future," he said.

On March 22, the Turnpike Commission announced it was halting engineering and design activities on the 14-mile stretch of toll road after the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission --- which sanctions regional transportation projects in a 10-county area --- declined to endorse its construction.

The SPC tabled its action in part due to concerns raised by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

They questioned both the cost of completing the highway as well as the length of time --- estimated at 20 years --- the turnpike would need to finish the project, and asked whether money allocated toward the Mon-Fayette could be directed to other infrastructure needs in the Mon Valley.

It was not the first time the Turnpike Commission suspended work on the controversial stretch of toll road. In 2010, the Turnpike's chief engineer announced the final, northern leg would "probably never be completed."

The Turnpike Commission announced in 2016 it was planning to resume work and held a series of public meetings to discuss plans for the highway's completion.

Meanwhile, on April 15, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Fitzgerald will drop his objections to the Mon-Fayette's completion after learning that funds allocated for the highway may not be spent on other transportation projects in the Pittsburgh area.

If not spent to extend the Mon-Fayette to Monroeville, the money instead would be re-directed to parts of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in other areas of the state, the newspaper reported.

McKeesport's resolution is prompted in part by Fitzgerald's change of heart, Cherepko said.

"All too often, I think we tend to get forgotten in the Mon Valley," Cherepko said. "This is us as a municipality saying, 'we support this and we need this.'"

Completion of the highway is supported by the Mon-Yough Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as other business groups such as the Mon Valley Alliance in Charleroi.

They contend the highway will encourage commercial and industrial development of former industrial sites in McKeesport, Duquesne and East Pittsburgh.

The resolution passed Wednesday by McKeesport city council argues that "nearly 1,000 acres of brownfield development sites ... would directly benefit from improved access" and that "an estimated 1,500" businesses also would benefit.

Opponents of the highway's extension include many environmental groups as well as public transportation advocates. They call it an expensive boondoggle that would increase air pollution, encourage sprawl on farmland outside of Pittsburgh, and divide the communities that it passes through.

A planned leg of the highway through Braddock and Hazelwood, which would have served as a bypass around the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, has been scrapped due to its expense and objections from Pittsburgh city officials.

Instead, the completed "Route 51 North" section of the Mon-Fayette would pass through West Mifflin, Dravosburg, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh, Turtle Creek and Wilkins Twp.

Interchanges would be constructed at Richland Avenue (Dravosburg Hill), on Route 837 near Kennywood, on the Tri-Boro Expressway in East Pittsburgh, and on U.S. Business Route 22 near Monroeville.

More information about the proposed extension of the Mon-Fayette through the West Mifflin, Duquesne and Turtle Creek areas is available at 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

Map: Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission illustration via Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission

Originally published May 07, 2017.

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