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Above: The representatives who signed the letter are urging the Turnpike Commission to complete the unfinished sections of the Southern Beltway —- shown in purple and orange —- before completing the northern extension of the Mon-Fayette Expressway, shown in yellow. (Map courtesy Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission)
Correction: This story incorrectly stated the party affiliation of state Rep. Brandon Neuman and state Rep. Pam Snyder. They are Democrats. I apologize for the error.
A group of state representatives —- including Elizabeth’s Rick Saccone —- have written to the Greater Pittsburgh area’s regional planning commission urging it not to recommend completion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.
Instead, the representatives —-9 Republicans, two Democrats --- say the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission should intensify its efforts to complete the so-called Southern Beltway (state Route 576) between Interstate 79 and Finleyville as quickly as possible.
About 6.5 miles of Route 576 in Findlay and Robinson townships, near Pittsburgh International Airport, is open, while another 13 miles is now under construction.
The letter to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, signed by 11 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, refers to the proposed 14 mile segment of Pennsylvania Route 43 from Jefferson Hills to Monroeville as a “road to nowhere.” It argues that completing the Mon-Fayette through West Mifflin, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh and Turtle Creek will do little to open old factory sites to redevelopment.
That puts Saccone and his colleagues in sharp disagreement with other Western Pennsylvania legislators —- including state Sen. Jim Brewster of McKeesport —- who have said that completing the Mon-Fayette is vital to marketing McKeesport, Duquesne, Clairton and other communities.
Instead of investing more more in the Mon-Fayette, the 11 representatives say in the letter, the Turnpike Commission should focus all of its efforts on completing the Southern Beltway all the way from the airport area to the existing stretch of Route 43 in Finleyville.
They note that a new chemical plant in Beaver County —- the so-called “cracker” plant being built by Royal Dutch Shell —- would benefit the Mon Valley if direct highway access via the Southern Beltway was available.
“The nascent polymer industries reasonably foreseeable with the development of the cracker plant, offers a real opportunity for recycling brownfields into modern manufacturing sites —- but only if the missing link in the Southern Beltway is completed,” says the letter, dated May 31 and released this week by the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus.
“It is critical that the Southern Beltway be given a top priority for the purpose of jobs and economic development,” said state Rep. Matt Dowling, a Republican from Uniontown, in a prepared statement. “There is a significant opportunity here to revive and remodel brownfield sites for manufacturing development.”
Copies of the letter also were sent to the Turnpike Commission and to state Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards.
State Rep. Ryan Warner, a Republican from Lemont Furnace, Fayette County, called the extension of the Mon-Fayette to Monroeville “completely ridiculous.”
“Connecting Monroeville was never part of the plan for the Mon-Fayette Expressway and absolutely makes no sense economically or logistically,” Warner said in a prepared statement. “Instead, we need to focus on completing the Southern Beltway now.
"With the cracker plant coming on line soon and other ancillary jobs expected, the Southern Beltway will be a key to revitalizing the job opportunities for area residents, and it will have a worthwhile economic impact on the region.”
In addition to Dowling, Warner and Saccone, other state representatives signing the letter included Donald “Bud” Cook of Bentleyville, Washington County; Jason Ortitay of Bridgeville; Mark Mustio of Moon Twp.; Aaron J. Bernstine of New Beaver, Lawrence County; Pam Snyder of Dry Tavern, Greene County; Jim Marshall of Big Beaver, Beaver County; Brandon Neuman of North Strabane Twp., Washington County, and Jim Christiana of Monaca, Beaver County.
At its March 20 meeting, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission tabled a decision on whether or not to recommend completion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway after Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto questioned if money allocated toward the expressway could be re-allocated toward other surface transportation projects in the Mon Valley.
After the Turnpike Commission said that money allocated toward the Mon-Fayette could not be spent elsewhere, Fitzgerald said he would withdraw his objection.
Since then, many Mon Valley communities, including McKeesport, have passed resolutions urging the Turnpike Commission to complete the northern leg of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.
The SPC is a regional planning agency representing 10 counties around Western Pennsylvania, including Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland. The next scheduled meeting of the SPC’s board of directors is June 26.
Originally published June 02, 2017.