The Citizens’ Plan: An Alternative to the Mon Fayette Toll Road

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Hotline, Fall 2002

by Beth Toor, GASP Board Member

On September 5, 2002 a coalition of non-profit organizations sponsored a public forum to discuss the Citizens’ Plan, an alternative to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissionis plan to complete the Mon-Fayette Toll Road from Route 51 into Pittsburgh and Monroeville. This coalition, led by Citizens for Pennsylvaniais Future (Penn Future), consists of Citizens for Alternatives to New Toll Roads (CANTR), Ground Zero, GASP, the Hazelwood Initiative, Oakland Community Council, Preservation Pittsburgh and the Sierra Club, Allegheny Chapter. Because coalition members believe the Turnpike Commission failed to seriously consider any alternatives in their plan except toll roads, an effort to produce an alternative plan was made. Penn Future coordinated the production of the Citizens’ Plan with the assistance of local concerned individuals with expertise in the fields of architecture, engineering, transportation planning and finance as well as support from coalition members.

In January 2002, the coalition toured the major arterial roads, towns and brownfields of the Mon Valley and began to pull together a solution, drawing upon the conclusions of published regional transportation and land use studies and obtaining feedback on the first draft from local officials and community groups. The result is a 32-page outline of a Citizens’ Plan.

“The plan’s goal is to meet the transportation needs of the Mon Valley in ways that promote the economic vitality of existing communities, the revitalization of brownfields and the conservation of natural resources… [by developing] better road connections among Mon Valley town-centers and brownfields to stimulate economic investment and community revitalization, improved access to the existing interstate highway system for local businesses serving markets outside the Mon Valley, and superior commuting access to employment and education centers to relieve traffic congestion and further enhance economic recovery in the Mon Valley.”

To meet these goals, instead of the 24-mile toll road and some park and ride lots planned by the Turnpike Commission, the Citizens’ Plan proposes:

1. A 62-mile network of urban boulevards (four-lane divided roads with left-turn lanes at intersections, and upgraded traffic signals): rebuilding 52 miles of existing arterial roads such as Route 51, Route 837, Route 885, and adding 10 miles of new roads;

2. Improved connections to interstate highways such as I-70, I-76 and I-79, creating direct access from Mon Valley redevelopment sites to the interstate system;

3. Major new transit investments to reduce traffic congestion, extending light rail from South Hills Village to the Century Three area, extending the Martin Luther King Busway to Braddock and Turtle Creek, and building a new light rail system from downtown to Oakland, Hazelwood, Homestead, West Mifflin, Duquesne and Braddock.

The total estimated cost of the Citizens’ Plan is $2.7 billion. of which $1.2 billion is for the 62-mile road component and $1.5 billion is for the 23 miles of new transit. For the 24 miles of toll road, the Turnpike Commission estimates a total cost of $1.9 billion. At first glance, the Turnpike plan appears to be cheaper, but unfortunately, if the toll road is to actually serve Mon Valley communities, rather than by-passing them, part of the road component of the Citizens’ Plan would have to be undertaken, and these costs are not included in the Turnpike estimate. While the road component of the Citizens’ Plan could be supported by the same sources of funds as the toll road, the transit portion is eligible for additional federal funds.

Another point in favor of the Citizens’ Plan is that it is incremental — it can be carried out in stages — while the toll road is all or nothing. In addition, because of the different types of construction in the two plans, considerably more will be spent on labor under the Citizens’ Plan; that is, it will provide more construction jobs, and it is also less likely to require labor from outside this region.

For more information and details of the plan, go to www.stopthetollroad.com.