Medal of Honor Highway
One thing apparent about Pittsburgh is that all of the expressways feed into the City -- there aren't any bypasses and won't be until this expressway is completed. Eventually it will stretch from the Southern Expressway to I-79 near Canonsburg and end at the Mon-Fayette Expressway between Exit 44 and Exit 48. PA Turnpike 576 will be 15 miles outside of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle and help connect Mon River Valley to Pittsburgh International Airport. However, to be a true bypass for the eastern suburbs, it should continue to the Turnpike and end between Exit 67 and Exit 75.
In compliance with the 1991 US Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, a Congestion Management System (CMS) Analysis and a Major Investment Study (MIS) were conducted for the entire Southern Beltway corridor. Along with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional Planning Commission (SPRPC) was the lead agency that pushed for the two studies. The integrated report recommended the construction of a tolled expressway to alleviate deficiencies. The report initiated the Environmental Impact Study phase of construction. The SPRPC passed a resolution on September 26, 1996, endorsing the CMS/MIS report.
At a public meeting on January 21, 1997 in Findlay Township, five alternative routes were unveiled: Red, Orange, Blue, Green, and Tan. The Red, Orange, and Blue were dismissed for further study because they disturbed residential areas and farm land. Also impacted were wetlands, the Youthtowne center, and historic sites such as the Moody residence and Burns/Hamilton historic farmstead.
The Turnpike Commission was given the Record of Decision from the Federal Highway Administration on May 11, 1998 for the section between PA 60 and US 22, which is also referred to as the Findlay Connector. Preliminary design began that year and was completed in April 2000. Final design began in May 2000 and finished at the end of 2003.
A ground breaking ceremony took place on November 12, 2003 for the Findlay Connector. Local officials as well as Governor Ed Rendell were on hand to kick off construction of the $225 million project on a knoll overlooking Pittsburgh International Airport which is the western terminus. Dick Corporation of Large built the $64.9 million western end, which includes ramps to and from PA 60 and the airport. Also upgrading the Clinton interchange on the Southern Expressway from a partial to a full interchange with construction of ramps from southbound and to northbound PA 60. Those ramps opened on July 21, 2006. Mashuda Corporation built the middle 2.2 miles at a cost of $36 million. The contracts for the remaining 2.4 miles to US 22 were awarded to Smith & Johnson Construction Company of Columbus, Ohio for $45.9 million on April 6, 2004. Included in that contract was construction of the expressway as well as full-movement interchanges with US 22 (which is Pennsylvania's second "volleyball" interchange, but first on the Turnpike System) and Bald Knob Road.
Groundbreaking ceremony at the PA 60/Pittsburgh International
Airport interchange. (Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission)
Conceptual drawing of the PA 60/Pittsburgh International Airport
interchange. (Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission)
Construction of the highway also included widening US 30 at the PA Turnpike 576 interchange, reclaiming strip mines and landfills, and displaced seven families and a greenhouse. There was another problem that faced the Turnpike Commission: environmental impact.
One problem with this section was that short-eared owls, which are on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's endangered species list, nested near the proposed Bald Knob/Ridge Road interchange. Turnpike engineers monitored the presence of the owls during construction. About 87 acres of nesting land was impacted by construction, so the PTC set aside other lands for the birds to nest. Other environmental problems were minimizing impact to streams and replacing eight acres of wetlands.
The price of acquiring the right-of-way was low because most of the area is undeveloped with nothing more than reclaimed strip mines and commercial landfills. Opening year traffic counts were estimated to be 12,000 vehicles per day, but is expected to rise to 36,000 trips per day by 2025 provided the rest of the Beltway is open to traffic.
|Looking south from the Pittsburgh International Airport ramp. Construction proceeding on the pilings that carry the mainline as well as ramps that connect to the Southern Expressway. (June 20, 2004) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|Another view of the pilings being constructed from the ramp. (June 20, 2004) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|Looking eastbound on US 30 at Exit 2. (August 13, 2005) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|Coal being removed from the right-of-way before the highway is built. (August 13, 2005) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|Facing the future on (left) and off (right) ramps at US 30. (August 13, 2005) (Jeff Kitsko)|
Looking eastbound towards the Westport Road interchange. Already
the asphalt sub-base has been laid.
(August 13, 2005) (Jeff Kitsko)
|Looking eastbound across the US 30 overpasses, and much like on the Mon-Fayette Expressway overpasses, the support beams are longer than the deck for possible future widening. (August 13, 2005) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|Looking westbound towards the Southern Expressway interchange. (August 13, 2005) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|The future off-ramp from eastbound PA Turnpike 576 to US 30. (July 22, 2006) (Ed Szuba)|
|The future on-ramp from US 30 to westbound PA Turnpike 576. Notice the different style of toll plaza, and unlike the other extensions, it has E-ZPass from day one. (July 22, 2006) (Ed Szuba)|
|Looking westbound towards the PA 60 interchange. (August 12, 2006) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|Looking eastbound towards the Westport Road interchange. (August 12, 2006) (Jeff Kitsko)|
|The toll plaza at the
eastbound off-ramp to US 30. PA Turnpike 576 became the first PTC
highway to be built with E-ZPass. I think the signals should have
been turned off so funds
saved for the rest of the project.
(August 12, 2006) (Jeff Kitsko)
|The two-tier coin-drop machines for both cars and trucks to use. They accept bills up to $5, make change, and give receipts. (August 12, 2006) (Jeff Kitsko)|
Problems arose in February 2006 when Smith & Johnson Construction company of Columbus, Ohio defaulted on their $45.9 million contract to build the southern end of the expressway across the Washington/Allegheny County line. The PTC's legal department notified Saint Paul Traveler of Saint Paul, Minnesota on February 8 that their client had defaulted; however, solving the legal problems and bringing in another contractor will likely jeopardize a summer opening. Smith & Johnson began lagging behind schedule in Fall 2005, but had fulfilled an estimated 65% of the contract before operations halted in January. Joe Agnello of the Turnpike Commission said, "As far as we know, they closed down the highway construction side of their business." The PTC had sent a letter to the company on January 18 offering them a chance to correct matters such as falling behind on work and not paying their suppliers and subcontractors. How much money was paid to Smith & Johnson is unknown, but this isn't the first contract on which they have defaulted. In September, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported they had halted construction on two projects in Indiana on the basis that they could not absorb the extra $3,000 a day in fuel costs to run heavy equipment.
Mashuda Corporation, which was the company building the center section, was tapped to finish the eastern third Smith & Johnson. In all, the project used 45,000 cubic yards of concrete, approximately 15 million pounds of steel, and 7.3 million pounds of rebar. Out of the $225 million total that was budgeted, approximately $150 million was used for construction alone.
On October 7, 2006, a "Community Day on the Expressway" was held at the US 30 interchange that featured food booths, collector cars, and also the West Hills Symphony to entertain. Port Authority buses provided a motorized tour of the entire six miles on the eastbound lanes, while other attendees biked, skated, and walked the westbound lanes.
The West Hills Symphony performing for Community Day attendees.
Various local and government agencies, including the PTC, had booths as
well as others selling food and drinks for attendees.
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies took place at 10 AM on October 11, 2006 and the expressway was opened to traffic at 3 PM. PTC CEO Joseph Brimmeier served as the Master of Ceremonies. "This is a relatively small but critical piece of the infrastructure puzzle that will better equip southwestern Pennsylvania to compete for private investment," said Brimmeier. "It will bring a much-needed, modern highway link to the Route 60 Expressway and our world-class Pittsburgh International Airport." Senator J. Barry Stout of Washington County and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato spoke on the occasion, while Governor Ed Rendell gave the keynote address.
There had been speculation as to what designation would be placed on this highway when completed. I had believed that it would receive an odd PA Turnpike x43 since it will be a spur off of PA Turnpike 43. Matt Boyko, contributor to Pennsylvania Highways, forwarded an e-mail response from Joe Agnello of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The message said, "Based on our current plans, the Southern Beltway will be designated Pa. Route 576 or Pennsylvania Turnpike 576. Ultimately, we believe that major chunks, at the least, of both the Mon/Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway systems will receive Interstate designation from the Federal Highway Administration."
AAA was just as confused as the rest of us as to
what would be the official designation and put
I-576 on their 2007-2008 Pittsburgh map. (AAA)
Opened October 11, 2006
Record of Decision
PA Turnpike 576 Pictures
Southern Beltway Progress Map
PA Turnpike 43
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
Pennsylvania Turnpike 576 Toll/Mileage Calculator - Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Expansion Projects-Southern Beltway
Fayette Expressway Completion Organization: Southern Beltway Corridor
Cecil Toll Road: Just Say No
Road to Ruin-Mon/Fayette & Southern Beltway - Taxpayers for Common Sense
Interstate 576 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 576 - Scott Oglesby
ISTEA/NHS/TEA-21 High Priority Corridor 31 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
PA Turnpike 576-Findlay Connector Preview - Adam Prince
Terminus of PA 576 - Adam Prince
US 22 TO PA TURNPIKE 43
A public meeting was held in Cecil Township on March 12, 1997 to obtain comments on two proposed alignments between US 22 and I-79: Red and Blue. The PTC furthered the Blue alignment for further study, citing residential, commercial, and community facility displacements, and unavoidable involvement with two potentially contaminated properties with the Red alignment. The cost of construction would be $23 to $43 million more with the Red versus the $261 million projected for the Blue alignment.
Obviously, the critics of the highway so far have been the residents along the proposed alignment; however, one unlikely opponent came forward in 2000. State representative John Maher, from Upper Saint Clair in Allegheny County has noted the lack of interchanges with important highways, commenting that, "The absence of access for people along this highway is so complete that it's no surprise that people are rethinking support of this road." Critics say the expressway does not include interchanges with busy highways such as US 19 and PA 50. Louis Philips, the head of the Route 50 Corridor Commission, said that Turnpike officials will not allocate the necessary $35 million for the interchange. He has also mentioned that he will not support the highway if money is not made available for the connection. PTC officials have said that an access highway is a local project and should be handled by other state and regional agencies. Representative Maher said he objected to the expressway for the same reason as Louis Philips. He also opposes a plan for the beltway to travel over Canonsburg Lake, saying, "Any route that would disturb Canonsburg Lake would be wholly unacceptable."
Even though construction has not begun, nor even a definite route chosen, problems had arisen regarding the area where it will connect to Interstate 79. In March 2003, the US Department of Veterans Affairs completed acquisition of 275 acres of the former Morgan Farms property in Cecil Township to develop a new regional National Cemetery and planned to begin burials in late 2004. The problem was that the PTC is planning to build an interchange with I-79 in the same area, and the VA was concerned that it would impact the cemetery and reduce available land for burials. Representatives from both sides met several times a month to resolve the conflict. On May 24, 2004, an agreement was reached whereby the PTC will avoid the "fast-tracked" area of cemetery property the VA will utilize first and minimize visual impacts to the cemetery and disruptions to access of the cemetery. So sufficient area is ensured to construct the I-79 interchange, the VA will provide some portions of its property on both sides of the Interstate and temporary easements for construction. In return, the PTC will provide the VA replacement land for future expansion of the cemetery on the east side of I-79.
The Turnpike Commission appears to be short of money to build this section as reported in the October 1, 2006 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Planning, preliminary engineering, and environmental studies have cost $12 million. There is another $64 million being held in escrow, $54 million for final engineering and design and $14 million toward an estimated $24 million for right-of-way acquisition. That leaves a $10 million deficit for purchasing land and a $593 deficit for construction.
The US Army Corps of Engineers and US Environmental Protection Agency along with the Turnpike Commission released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Interstate 79 to Mon-Fayette Expressway section on December 17, 2007. Several alternatives, including the No Build Alternative, are presented in detail with the Tan, Green, and Purple Alternatives in the western section and Tan, Red, and Tan-Red Alternatives in the eastern section of the study area. The DEIS suggests the Green Alternative for the western section and Tan-Red Alternative for the eastern section. No decisions will be made until all comments on the DEIS are received.
The section between US 22 and Interstate 79 moved into the final phase, or Step 10 of planning known as Final Design. The Final Environmental Impact Study which was released in Fall 2006, suggests using the B-2 Alternative route for the 13.3-mile-long section beginning at the end of the expressway at US 22 and passing to the south of the McDonald area to a new interchange at I-79 between the existing Southpointe and Bridgeville interchanges. The FEIS addressed earlier concerns over the visual impact of the I-79 interchange to the US Department of Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery of the Alleghenies. The interchange layout also addresses local concern by providing access from Morganza Road.
The Federal Highway Administration signed the Record of Decision for the US 22 to I-79 section on September 3, 2008. They signed off on the B-2 Alternative as the selective alternative. This step allows the PTC to proceed with final design and right-of-way acquisition. Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier announced that three engineering firms have been contracted for final design services and a two-year agreement has been signed under which Orion Land Services of Apollo will serve as its agent for right-of-way acquisition. They will open a local field office and begin formal notification of affected property owners and residents with acquisitions to begin in the Fall. Estimates show that approximately 105 residences and 11 businesses will be displaced.
The Record of Decision for the I-79 to PA Turnpike 43 section was issued on May 13, 2009 when the Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the estimated $730 million project. The approval designates the 12.5-mile Green Alternative Option 1A/Tan-Red Alternative as the selected alternative which is located entirely in Washington County. This marks the end of a 17-year-long development process that began in June 1992. There are an estimated 96 residential displacements and three business displacements.
The ROD might have been the easiest part of the project as funding for construction is not coming so easy. "We are very proud of the fact that we have been able to get all of these projects through the environmental process and construct the majority of them. It is unfortunate that because of funding shortages we will not be able to advance the I-79-to-Mon-Fayette Expressway project to final design at this time," Joseph Brimmeier, PTC CEO said. So far the Turnpike Commission has spent $29 million on the portions yet to be built. At a meeting in April 2009, the PTC's Chief Engineer Frank Kempf told attendees that "there is a funding gap between the amount of financing that a private concern might bring to the table" and the remaining segments of this expressway and Turnpike 43 are estimated to cost up to $5 billion.
When it appeared that this expressway would end up on the scrap pile, as so many planned expressways for Pittsburgh have ended up, a glimmer of hope came on December 21, 2012. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chairman William K. Lieberman announced that day that final design work would be reactivated on the US 22 to I-79 segment. Construction would take approximately six years to complete, depending on funding availability, with an anticipated opening date around 2020. The estimated $632.5 million project, which includes engineering, property acquisition, utility relocation, and construction will be funded with a mix of state tax revenues, bonding, and federal loans. For the first time, a PTC project will use no toll dollars for funding.
Also a first will be how tolls are collected on this segment. In conjunction with the commission's five-year plan to convert to a cashless system, this expressway will be designed for All-Electronic Tolling (AET). Utilizing this system will mean less money will need to be spend for land acquisition for toll plazas because only overhead gantries equipped with E-ZPass readers and video cameras will be needed. The first contract that is expected to be awarded will be in 2014 for the bridge to carry the Southern Beltway over US 22. Afterwards, beginning in 2016, the PTC expects to begin awarding contracts for construction of the roadway and the five interchanges in this segment.
PA TURNPIKE 43 TO
"[We] are absolutely determined to make this a model of urban freeways throughout the country," said Turnpike Engineer Frank Kempf. Consultants have been instructed to work closely with representatives of the communities they cross. Kempf said, "These people will be neighbors of the highway for the next 100 years." Letters to the consultants were sent out three days later to give them the "go ahead" to start work. Five Design Advisory Teams will be established to address issues that may arise, and be set up for Turtle Creek, Dravosburg, Braddock-Swissvale-Rankin, and two areas in the City of Pittsburgh: Nine Mile Run and Glenwood-South Oakland-Hays. The project will pass through parts of East Pittsburgh, Turtle Creek, Wilkins, and Penn Hills. A decade is the proposed timetable for design, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, and ultimately construction. However, some segments might open early, possibly the PA 51 to PA 837 section. Interchanges will be built at East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard in North Versailles, Thompson Run Road and Old William Penn Highway in Penn Hills, Business US 22 and I-376/US 22 in Monroeville. Right-of-way acquisition should begin in late 2007.
EXPRESSWAY/SOUTHERN BELTWAY HOTLINE: 1-800-585-2996
|Western Terminus:||I-376 at Exit 53 at the Pittsburgh International Airport|
|Eastern Terminus:||US 22 in Santiago|
|National Highway System:||Entire length|
|Names:||Southern Beltway: I-376 to PA
Findlay Connector: I-376 to US 22
Mon-Fayette Expressway: PA Turnpike 43 south to PA Turnpike 43 north
Medal of Honor Highway: PA Turnpike 43 to I-376/US 22
|Counties:||Allegheny and Washington|