Completion of the Mon/Fayette Expressway is Essential for Our Future
Hotline, Fall 2001
by Joe Kirk, Chairman, Mon/Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway Alliance
The Mon Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway Alliance is a broad coalition of over 100 businesses, economic development organizations and labor groups who together see the Mon/Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway as the cornerstone for the economic revitalization of southwestern Pennsylvania.
This alliance clearly understands that the economic future of our region is directly tied to transportation infrastructure that links employers to markets and the labor pool to employers. It is not a question of whether to continue to improve our transit system and pursue exciting opportunities such as Maglev versus the Expressway and Beltway projects. Instead, the region as a whole must make a commitment to all necessary transportation improvements that make southwestern Pennsylvania economically competitive. It is not sustainability versus sprawl; but whether we seek to promote economic vitality.
While there are some pockets of growth, our region lags far behind. Economic activity in southwestern Pennsylvania too often ranks near or at the bottom of benchmark ratings with comparable regions. Based on a study of the Conference on Real Estate, our region ranks last in development sites with limited, four-lane highway access. Not only are 83% of finished products moved by trucks but site-location specialists increasing look at employee access as a top site selection criteria. We must do better. Do we forget that the Pittsburgh region was once a major center of wealth in the world?
With increasing traffic congestion in our region, there is a major question as to whether our current transportation system could even support a major surge in economic growth. Without question, we need to develop both additional highway and mass transit capacity.
Our alliance calls for a plan of action to implement a financing system that will ensure that projects of the Expressway and Beltway targeted for advancement to final engineering have funding in place to advance to construction.
These projects include the PA Route 51 to Pittsburgh and Monroeville section of the Mon/Fayette Expressway and the Findlay Connector of the Southern Beltway. The Findlay Connector will be ready for construction within a year. In Fayette County, the Brownsville to Uniontown section of the Mon/Fayette Expressway will be ready for construction in about three years.
The benefits of the PA Route 51 to Pittsburgh project are numerous. Its overall benefit is that it would provide modern highway transportation access for the long-disconnected Mon Valley. This is the area where the vast majority of the 250,000 job losses occurred during the 1980s. Less we forget, the impact of that economic “atomic bomb” still reverberates in this area. Yes, there has been some progress. But overall, economic activity in the Mon Valley is well below the anemic economic growth of our region.
Specific benefits of the PA Route 51 north Expressway project include improved access to:
- Over two dozen river communities with available housing stock
- 1,000 acres of brownfield development sites including sites in Duquesne and McKeesport
- The Keystone Commons project
- 715 manufacturers that employ 27,000 people. These firms range form major corporations to one-person machine shops
- The 120,000 plus daily commuters on the Parkway East
On the last point, even the most optimistic projections for mass transit systems in the Parkway East corridor would still necessitate a new highway facility to address current and projected traffic congestion in this corridor.
A key benefit of the Findlay Connector is that it would provide access to an area of sufficient size to permit the development of a large-scale, world-class, mixed-use park. Such a development could include design features consistent with concepts of smart growth.
Yes, we have a plan to finance these projects. Our “Plan H” strategy, which calls for a set-aside of $106.6 million per year in future federal transportation funds to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, would support bonds for the construction of these projects. This plan is consistent with the current funding strategy that has yielded over $1.2 billion dollars to advance Expressway construction and continue planning for the balance of the Expressway project and the Southern Beltway. Forty-six local governments in the region have passed a resolution in support of Plan H. This includes the Allegheny County Council and Washington and Fayette County’s boards of commissioners.
To those who say these projects “are the wrong idea,” I ask them to provide a truly viable alternative that includes the access necessary to promote economic redevelopment in the Mon Valley region and other areas.
Economic sustainability begins with assuring basic economic vitality. Advancement of these crucial projects will provide the mobility and access necessary to promote such vitality.