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State Legislators Seem Eager To Finish The Mon-Fayette Expressway

Courtesy TRIP
If completed, the project will run from West Virginia to Monroeville.

Construction of the Mon-Fayette Expressway could resume in 2022, Pennsylvania Turnpike officials told a meeting of the state Senate Democratic policy committee on Tuesday. The 68-mile highway is supposed to run from West Virginia to Monroeville, with 14 miles left to go.

The final leg of the decades-old project, from State Route 51 in Jefferson Hills to I-376, carries a $2 billion price tag. Turnpike officials said they only have the money to build half of the route; funding to build from State Route 837 in Duquesne to Monroeville remains uncertain.

Sean Logan, who leads the Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakers finishing the project is key to the Mon Valley’s recovery.

“Acting to move the project forward represents honoring a commitment made many years ago to the people and the businesses of the region that they would not be forgotten,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by senators at the hearing including Wayne Fontana, a Brookline Democrat who said completion of the decades-old project must be a priority.

“We’re sitting in a position right now with this federal money out there. Everybody should be on board for this project,” he said. “This is an opportunity right now and we need to get to it.”

Pennsylvania has more than $7 billion in federal relief money to be used over the next three years, and many of the speakers at the committee’s meeting urged legislators to use some of that money for the expressway.

Andrea Boykowycz said data fails to support claims that the Mon-Fayette expressway will help communities. Boykowycz used to work for Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and spent years researching alternatives to the highway. She said there is no silver bullet to revitalize distressed regions.

“And it’s certainly not the case that a highway has ever done it,” she said.

Boykowycz said residents repeatedly asked for other services instead, like light rail to downtown Pittsburgh or safer roads between communities.

The Mon-Fayette Expressway, or at least the idea of it, has persisted for nearly 70 years. It was first proposed in the mid-1950s as a way to support the booming steel industry, but gained new momentum in the 1980s after that industry’s collapse, said Boykowycz. The idea was to connect communities to Downtown Pittsburgh and I-376, and later, to draw businesses with shovel-ready sites and easy road access.

The leg to Downtown is no longer part of the plan.