The Mon/Fayette Toll Road: the Environmental View

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Hotline, Summer 2001

by Suzanne Seppi, GASP Executive Director

The Mon/Fayette Toll Road, 65 miles long, will go from Morgantown, West Virginia via Uniontown to Pittsburgh and Monroeville. The route runs through Jefferson and West Mifflin to Duquesne, where a bridge across the river is planned. From there one segment runs through Turtle Creek and Wilkins Township to the Parkway East and another segment follows the river through Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale and Hazelwood to the Second Ave. area near Bates Street. Instead of the North Shore route into Pittsburgh (just described), which is the probable route, a South Shore Alternative is also being considered.

GASP has many concerns about this road, but for now, we will only address some of the environmental concerns. Will this road increase pollution and how?

  • Most obviously it will pave over a huge number of acres of land. Typically, an interchange alone requires between 70 to 100 acres in land (not all paved but taken out of community use). Will sprawl and its consumption of land and resources follow this road? Asphalt begets more asphalt. The Maryland Public Interest Research Group found a “magnet effect” as well as a “ripple effect” whereby new highway construction not only attracted new development, but this effect became more pronounced as distance from an urban area increased. What does this imply for the urban Pittsburgh area?
  • While the automobile fleet can be expected to be cleaner in the upcoming years, there will still be exhaust, likely increased vehicle miles and perhaps increased truck exhaust if the highway should spawn additional industry as proponents suggest. The exhaust will occur, at least in part, in river valley areas known for inversions. “Vehicle exhaust causes an estimated 30,000 deaths a year in the United States due to related respiratory illnesses and may actually have contributed to an estimated 120,000 deaths annually” (Freund and Martin, 1993; Holtz Kay, 1997).1 “It is not merely exhaust emissions that vehicles leave behind but other particulates in the form of rubber and asbestos from brake linings. Each vehicle tire loses up to a pound of rubber a year from road abrasion; in the former West Germany alone, the amount is estimated to be 100,000 tons annually” (Holtz Kay, 1997; Freund and Martin, 1993).2 Additionally there will be a nearby accumulation of salt, oil and antifreeze from the vehicles that will affect soil and runoff water.
  • There are also problems related to noise pollution including hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 25 million Americans are exposed to noise levels that can lead to psychological and physiological damage, including cardiovascular problems, strokes and nervous disorders. Another 40 million people are exposed to noise levels that cause sleep deprivation and work disruption.3 In many cities across America, citizens are demanding sound deadening walls next to highways to relieve vehicular noise. The EPA has set decibel level standards for health with reference to noise. Traffic noise on a busy street is generally higher than the EPA level (Steiner, 1978). This highway in many areas will be very close to remaining residences and businesses (within 50 feet).4
  • Light pollution lasting through the night, especially at interchanges may be particularly bothersome to nearby residents. As an aside, the International Dark-Sky Association estimated in 1996 that nearly 1.5 billion dollars of electricity is being consumed for illumination carelessly spilled directly into the sky each year by the United States alone.
  • Implications for wetland areas, parks and natural areas in the path of this road are also of serious concern. It is these dwindling natural areas in an urban environment that are especially precious to residents and especially needed to support and cleanse the nearby built environment.

GASP awaits the Draft Environmental Impact Statement due out in September for further analysis. In the meantime we hope to promote a dialogue about this subject with a special issue of the Hotline containing affected communities’ and citizens’ comments.

1. Hazelwood: Making New Connections-Capstone Seminar in Economic, Policy and Planning Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh, Spring 2001.
2. Ibid.
3. Roanoke Times & World News, 1/09/1998, pg. 9, Kelly Polyakov.
4. Hazelwood: Making New Connections-Capstone Seminar in Economic, Policy and Planning Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh, Spring 2001.