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 $238 million portion of 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.
When originally built, the section between Interstate 376 and US 22 had unstaffed toll plazas on the eastbound off-ramps. The Turnpike Commission planned to convert the entire system to all-electronic toll collection, and the Southern Beltway was one of the first segments to have its plazas removed. Overhead gantries outfitted with E-ZPass scanners and high-speed cameras were installed one mile west of Exit 4, while the plazas on the off-ramps were demolished which took place between October 2017 and June 2018.
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
Construction began May 12, 2014
Record of Decision
PA Turnpike 576 Pictures
Southern Beltway Progress Map
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
Pennsylvania Turnpike 576 Toll/Mileage Calculator - Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Expansion Projects-Southern Beltway
Cecil Toll Road: Just Say No
Interstate 576 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 576 - Scott Oglesby
PA Turnpike 576-Findlay Connector Preview - Adam Prince
US 22 TO INTERSTATE 79
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 appeared 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 was 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 left a $10 million deficit for purchasing land and a $593 deficit for construction.
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, suggested 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 addressed 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, and thus approved the B-2 Alternative. This step allowed the PTC to proceed with final design and right-of-way acquisition. Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier announced that three engineering firms had been contracted for final design services and a two-year agreement has been signed under which Orion Land Services of Apollo served as its agent for right-of-way acquisition. They opened a local field office and began formal notification of affected property owners and residents. Estimates show that approximately 105 residences and 11 businesses will be displaced.
Construction on this segment officially began on May 12, 2014, when Governor Tom Corbett joined PTC Chairman William K. Lieberman, PTC Commissioner Sean Logan, State Senator Timothy J. Solobay, and other state and local officials for a groundbreaking ceremony at the US 22 interchange. The first segment consists of two, $14 million bridges over US 22, and is the first part of a $550 million project to complete the Southern Beltway between that route and Interstate 79. "When I signed the transportation plan, Act 89 into law last November, I made a commitment that construction projects to improve safety, create jobs and spur economic development would come quickly," Corbett said. "Today, as we break ground on this section of Pittsburgh's Southern Beltway, a project that has been stalled due to a lack of funding, I am delivering on that commitment." The bridges for the mainline roadway over US 22 were completed in Fall 2015.
Mother Nature must not have been too pleased by the project, and she showed her displeasure by unleashing record rainfall during the months of February and April in 2018. Independence Excavating of Cleveland had been working ahead of schedule. Everything was in place to begin paving, which needed to begin in May or early June to be able to finish before the weather turned in October. Large sections of the alignment were deemed unsuitable for paving, which had eliminated that leeway. "Weíre down to being just on schedule because we lost all of our float," said Bob Kohlmyer, construction supervisor for CDR McGuire, the turnpikeís construction manager for this project. "Weíre on time as long as we donít lose any more days." In order to keep on the timetable, a plan was devised to scrape off the top few inches of dirt in the spring and use what was left as a subgrade base. However, when inspectors ran tri-axle trucks filled with dirk over the scraped land, it was found to be spongy in numerous places. Inspectors marked off the soft spots with red paint and ordered workers to remove the wet material and replace it with dry. "If you have a spongy bottom, you canít dry it out," said Mr. Kohlmyer, picking up an exposed clump of clay that was about the consistency of Play-Dough. "Itís underneath something, so itís never going to dry. You canít build on it. You have to take it down to the wet, take it out and replace it, then pile the top back on." The poor weather also slowed down work on the bridges over Little Raccoon Creek, which acted as a main route for trucks carrying cement from the mobile plant installed near the project area. Fortunately, most of the bridge had been constructed, but the only remaining part to finish was pouring concrete into its "blockouts," or the space between the bridge and the ground at its ends, which was postponed until May 17, 2018. Bridges at Quicksilver Road and Candor Road were in various stages of completion. Quicksilver Road's was nearly finished with the exception of paving because it was difficult to get machinery in later, and Candor Road's less farther along because itís completion wasn't as time-sensitive.
An interesting technique was used for the construction of the bridges over Little Raccoon Creek in Washington County. Rather than using one crane to lift beams into place, two were used due to the length needed to complete the span. The innovated process uses two cranes using a two-foot welded steel triangle and a couple of Kevlar straps to hold the beams in place. The steel triangle is a new tool that was approved in 2016 for use on PennDOT and PTC projects, and Alvarez, Inc. of Canonsburg became the first company in the state to use this new procedure. Joe Schrecengost, a supervisor for Alvarez, built theirs after seeing an Oregon company using it featured in a trade publication. It was better than the old method of sliding the precast concrete across a dummy steel slab placed across the open area and treated with Crisco or a similar substance, then pulling the steel slab out. With the new method, workers can place as many as six beams in one day, two or three times as the old method. Using walkie-talkies and hand signals, the crane operators are instructed how to guide the beams into place. Three carpenters are stationed on the pier where the beam will rest with one to lean against it to force it into the correct position. A wooden plank is used at the abutment to make final adjustments and put the beam into place on a four-inch-thick rubber pad. Next two carpenters on a manlift find brackets at the midpoint of each beam where they attach X-shaped steel braces to tie the beams together and make sure they remain in place. When the workers are finished placing beams on one side of the bridge, one crane is moved to the abutment on the other side so beam placement can be completed on that end. After that, crews will finish prepping the bridge for paving by placing two layers of reinforcement bars and getting the road bed leading up to the bridge into shape for paving on both sides of the bridge. Due to the muddy conditions at the worksite, the cranes had to be placed on sets of 12-by-12-inch beams so they would not sink. The site was so muddy that once a rig carrying a beam arrived on site, a front loader would have to scrape the road ahead so it could get through.
Trumbull Corporation unveiled plans on May 2, 2018 for construction of a 1.7-mile section from PA 50 to a point near the Interstate 79 interchange. Cost for this segment will be $37.8 million and mostly involve earth-moving work. Paul Boggs, project manager for Trumbull, told about 50 residents at the South Fayette Township Volunteer Fire Department in Cuddy that "The work will begin now" and last two years. Coal Pit Run Road was permanently closed and Hickory Grade Road was closed through mid-November 2019 so workers could cut a 70-foot-deep valley to carry the expressway below the road and erect a 300-foot bridge across. Not all were pleased with the PTC, such as Melissa and Lou Quatro who live at one end of the proposed bridge and lost three of their 10 acres for the project. They aren't pleased with how the PTC treated them during the procurement and haven't settled their case with the agency. "You canít stop a road but you can certainly treat people right," said Melissa Quatro, whose daughter had lived on the part of the property taken for the highway. "The good news is the Trumbull people and (protect manager CDR) Maguire have been great and theyíre the people who will be here." Mr. Boggs had a somewhat positive outlook saying, "Once this is done, itís going to be a massive improvement... from I-79 to the airport." He added, "At the end of the day, this is going to be a big benefit to the region."
A $3.7 million mistake was made by the Turnpike Commission in handling a substance known as pickle liquor sludge which was found during excavation work. The substance is a byproduct of polishing steel with an acid solution to remove rust and other impurities. It was common practice in the 1940s and 1950s to add lime to neutralize the sludge and then bury it in old strip mines. Test borings showed crews would find the sludge in a two-mile section between US 22 and Quicksilver Road, but engineers didn't expect to find any more in the future right-of-way. The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered that the substance be treated as a hazardous material. Instead of removing and storing 66,000 tons of the sludge found in the spring and summer of 2017 for reuse elsewhere at the site, which designers had called for, the material would have to be taken to a licensed landfill as a hazardous material. The result was the commission board having to approve a $3.7 million change order in the contract for Independence Excavating to cover the cost of hauling, landfill fees, and covering the areas where the substance had been temporarily stored. It was to be used as crews filled in valleys, but neighbors complained about the smell. "We knew it was there and there were plans for how to deal with it," said Mike Shaak, assistant chief engineer for the turnpike. "As part of construction, [Independence] excavated and started the process." DEP spokesperson Lauren Fraley said the department hadn't discussed pickle liquor with the PTC as part of the project for more than a decade, but would not discuss when the department's standards changed, why the material is hazardous, nor why the Turnpike Commission will not receive a citation for the incident.
It was looking as if the Turnpike Commission might have to buy additional properties along PA 980 near McDonald, where chronic flooding had become a problem during construction. Two state lawmakers, Senator Camera Bartolotta and Representative Jason Ortitay, sent a letter on July 2, 2018 demanding all work stop on the entire 13-mile-long project until the flooding issues could be eliminated. In the letter, they "demand that the turnpike and your contractors focus 100 percent on your efforts on completing the storm water retention area and other flood prevention measures before continuing with work on the Southern Beltway project." While the agency hadn't responded, Brad Heigel, the turnpike's chief engineer, said additional crews were added to deal with the runoff problem. "I don't know if it's necessarily practical to stop," Heigel said. "We're doing everything we can to get this under control. We haven't turned the other cheek here." He added, "If we know it's going to rain, we have people on duty from our contactor and our management company to make sure drains are open and handle any problems. We haven't said 'no' to paying for anything that is needed to address this situation." The area had a series of floods during the spring and summer of 2017 after excavation for a Southern Beltway bridge. Additional runoff ponds were created at the time and seemed to solve the problem. When crews built an access road to install beams for the new bridge in June 2018, the area was hit with heavy rain before runoff controls could be implemented. Project engineer Matt Burd said one pond installed after the previous year's flooding did have an overflow problem during a storm on July 1, 2018. Crews were not able to determine if someone had tampered with silk socks put around the pond to hold water back or the socks were compromised due to the amount of water. Mr. Heigel said the best course of action would be to complete the construction as soon as possible because the permanent runoff measures will work once the project is done. He noted that unusually heavy rains have hit communities in southwestern Pennsylvania causing flooding issues. "Honestly, I thought we had most of this behind us after the changes we made last year," Heigel said. "It definitely has been a struggle. It frustrates me as much as it frustrates the residents." Adding, "but we'll continue to work until we get it right."
The first contact involving the section with the interchange with Interstate 79 was awarded in August 2018 to Independence Excavating of Cleveland for $23.6 million for work that began in October 2018 and lasted a year. Aside from excavating about 700,000 cubic yards of dirt and building bridges, it included relocating Morgan Road and making adjustments on other local roads near the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies. It would have its own challenges with the cemetery and construction of bridges over Interstate 79 and the Southern Beltway, in addition to construction of a roundabout at the convergence of Morgan, Baker, and Morganza roads. The interchange with the interstate would be a daunting construction project. "We're not going to adjust I-79 up or down so we're going to have to work around it," said Josh Farley, assistant manager on that section for turnpike consultant CDR Maguire. The 1.8-mile-long section is estimated to cost $150 million to $250 million, 50% more expensive than any of the other seven segments comprising the entire project between US 22 and Interstate 79, and could end up close to one-third of the total cost of the entire project.
to move Morgan Road about 20 feet south of its former alignment required
closure between Morganza Road and the cemetery entrance. After
months of discussions, the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies and
Turnpike Commission agreed to allow the main entrance to remain open, but
visitors would have to take a more circuitous route. "We knew
we had to keep access to the cemetery," Steele said.
"That's one of the key points here: being good to our
neighbors." Assistant cemetery director, Ed Hajduk, said it
would be "a challenge" to maintain the solemn atmosphere during
the two years of construction, but praised the PTC for its cooperation.
"Unfortunately, this will create disturbances not normally seen
around the cemetery," he said. "Normal access is not going
to be there. We will apologize in advance to families for what's
going on and keep the disturbances down as much as we can."
Work on the interchange will include creating a "valley" under
Interstate 79 for ramps, building the ramps between the two roadways, and
excavating under the new bridge on Morgan Road which would being in
February 2019. "This section's got the most complicated
geometry involved in the whole project," said Josh Farley.
"Going under I-79 will take a lot of coordination and
teamwork." While the expressway is slated to open in 2021, this
interchange might not be completed until 2022.
drainage, which plagued Interstate 99 in the middle of the state, was
also a thorn in the side of this section. Turnpike officials told
residents that there was some occurring near the construction site of two
curved bridges over Nobelstown Road in Washington County, and would be
dealt with when work began on the next section of the expressway in
2019. The PTC's construction engineer manager, Steve Hrvoich, said
it is rare for them to be dealing with acid drainage but after studying
the area for years, were ready with a plan to combat the drainage. A
passive limestone treatment system was constructed six months before
construction began on the roadway itself and consists of a collection
basin 10 to 12 feet deep filled with limestone. The contaminated
water passes through the limestone and is neutralized. Flooding and acid
drainage were not the only obstacles in the way. Plugging old oil
and gas wells also caused issues for construction crews. The PTC
sought bids to close up a maximum of 15 wells but a total of 27 were
found. Joseph B. Fay Company was paid an additional $778,685 to
cover the additional wells. The area around McDonald has a long
history of oil and gas drilling; however, there was no accurate documentation
showing well locations or their conditions. "We haven't had
this experience with wells before so it's all new to us," said Brad
Heigel, the turnpike's chief engineer. "We were aware of the
history of the area. When we got out there and started clearing the
land, we found more than we expected." Some were uncapped,
which can relapse oil or gas again if they are disturbed and pollute
ground water. York Drilling of Mount Morris was subcontracted to cap
the wells, and another company specializing in drones were brought in to
fly ones outfitted with metal detectors over the future path to identify
as many wells before bid specifications are set. The concrete used for
construction of the roadway is a new type being used for the first time by
the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, while PennDOT has used it in
projects six times since 2012. It is called long-life concrete which
uses a mix with more small stones and less water, which should last at
least 40 years with minimal repairs. Its manufacturing is so
intricate that the American Concrete Pavement Association held Just in
Time classes in June 2018, a month before paving began, to make sure the
PTC and its contractors knew the procedures. All through the day,
the amount of water and air in the concrete is adjusted to produce the
right mixture. If there's not enough water, sprinklers are activated
to wet the storage piles or too much and the amount is reduced, and air is
injected if it is determined there is not enough to provide room for the
concrete to expand and contract. Each day samples are taken to the
field office and put into a machine that squeezes them until they
burst. They must withstand 3,000 pounds per square inch for after
seven days and 4,000 pounds after 28 days to be acceptable to the PTC.
Crews had wanted to start pouring the surface by mid-June, but due to the
wet spring and summer that year, it was pushed to July. In order to
get the paving done by October, crews had to work every day, starting at 4
AM, and work through all kinds of weather.
the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic swept into the country in March
2020, the PTC took measures to stem the spread to their employees and
staff. One thing they did was halting construction projects
temporarily, including the Southern Beltway, until safety procedures could be put into
place. For this project, it included employees taking their
temperatures when they leave from home and arrive at work, additional
hand-washing stations and sanitizing wipes at the site, and maintaining a
safe distance from co-workers during duties ranging from excavating dirt
to placing bridge girders to installing drainage. Even reporting to
the site had to change, as one worker can only ride in a vehicle at a
time, which means workers have to drive their person vehicles farther into
the site or walk a long distance after parking their vehicles. The
first full week of April saw workers return, but the week prior, crews
were sanitizing machinery and equipment left idle along Interstate
79. "The main challenge will be for workers to perform their
tasks while maintaining a minimum six feet from other workers," said
Steve Hrvoich, the turnpikeís construction engineering manager for the
beltway project. "Certain operations that require workers to
get closer may experience decreased productivity."
Acid drainage, which plagued Interstate 99 in the middle of the state, was also a thorn in the side of this section. Turnpike officials told residents that there was some occurring near the construction site of two curved bridges over Nobelstown Road in Washington County, and would be dealt with when work began on the next section of the expressway in 2019. The PTC's construction engineer manager, Steve Hrvoich, said it is rare for them to be dealing with acid drainage but after studying the area for years, were ready with a plan to combat the drainage. A passive limestone treatment system was constructed six months before construction began on the roadway itself and consists of a collection basin 10 to 12 feet deep filled with limestone. The contaminated water passes through the limestone and is neutralized.
Flooding and acid drainage were not the only obstacles in the way. Plugging old oil and gas wells also caused issues for construction crews. The PTC sought bids to close up a maximum of 15 wells but a total of 27 were found. Joseph B. Fay Company was paid an additional $778,685 to cover the additional wells. The area around McDonald has a long history of oil and gas drilling; however, there was no accurate documentation showing well locations or their conditions. "We haven't had this experience with wells before so it's all new to us," said Brad Heigel, the turnpike's chief engineer. "We were aware of the history of the area. When we got out there and started clearing the land, we found more than we expected." Some were uncapped, which can relapse oil or gas again if they are disturbed and pollute ground water. York Drilling of Mount Morris was subcontracted to cap the wells, and another company specializing in drones were brought in to fly ones outfitted with metal detectors over the future path to identify as many wells before bid specifications are set.
The concrete used for construction of the roadway is a new type being used for the first time by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, while PennDOT has used it in projects six times since 2012. It is called long-life concrete which uses a mix with more small stones and less water, which should last at least 40 years with minimal repairs. Its manufacturing is so intricate that the American Concrete Pavement Association held Just in Time classes in June 2018, a month before paving began, to make sure the PTC and its contractors knew the procedures. All through the day, the amount of water and air in the concrete is adjusted to produce the right mixture. If there's not enough water, sprinklers are activated to wet the storage piles or too much and the amount is reduced, and air is injected if it is determined there is not enough to provide room for the concrete to expand and contract. Each day samples are taken to the field office and put into a machine that squeezes them until they burst. They must withstand 3,000 pounds per square inch for after seven days and 4,000 pounds after 28 days to be acceptable to the PTC. Crews had wanted to start pouring the surface by mid-June, but due to the wet spring and summer that year, it was pushed to July. In order to get the paving done by October, crews had to work every day, starting at 4 AM, and work through all kinds of weather.
When the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic swept into the country in March 2020, the PTC took measures to stem the spread to their employees and staff. One thing they did was halting construction projects temporarily, including the Southern Beltway, until safety procedures could be put into place. For this project, it included employees taking their temperatures when they leave from home and arrive at work, additional hand-washing stations and sanitizing wipes at the site, and maintaining a safe distance from co-workers during duties ranging from excavating dirt to placing bridge girders to installing drainage. Even reporting to the site had to change, as one worker can only ride in a vehicle at a time, which means workers have to drive their person vehicles farther into the site or walk a long distance after parking their vehicles. The first full week of April saw workers return, but the week prior, crews were sanitizing machinery and equipment left idle along Interstate 79. "The main challenge will be for workers to perform their tasks while maintaining a minimum six feet from other workers," said Steve Hrvoich, the turnpikeís construction engineering manager for the beltway project. "Certain operations that require workers to get closer may experience decreased productivity."
INTERSTATE 79 TO PA TURNPIKE 43
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 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 two contracts were awarded January 13, 2014: one for the bridge to carry the Southern Beltway over US 22 and another for management of the project. 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.
The new chairman of the PTC, William Lieberman of Squirrel Hill, used the opening of the remainder of the Mason-Dixon Link to declare this last section his top priority. "It's my number one goal as chairman of the Turnpike to eventually, sooner rather than later, cut a ribbon opening West Virginia to Monroeville," he said in a later interview. "I think this is vital to the economy and the quality of life in Western Pennsylvania." While not having firm plans on how to revive the project, he did say it would probably have to be built in phases rather than all at once.
The Turnpike's chief engineer Frank Kempf said, "The first thing that has to happen [to restart them] is funding has to come available." The Mon-Fayette Expressway without its northern section is "certainly not what we envisioned or what the Legislature envisioned when they charged the turnpike with building it," Mr. Kempf said. "But I don't call it a failure." At a meeting with about 40 Mon Valley leaders and residents on March 1, 2010 at the Palisades on the Youghiogheny River, US Senator Arlen Specter delivered a promise but no funding. "I don't think there's any highway in the state as important as the Mon-Fayette Expressway. I'm committed to do everything I can do to get you funding to move it ahead." A top PTC official said after the meeting that the project is, for now, "dead in the water," but Senator Specter reassured the crowd that he hoped to include the project in the next long-term federal surface transportation bill..
After years of no action, the Turnpike Commission finally made moves to continue building of the remaining section of the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Giving testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee in Harrisburg on June 16, 2015, Commission Chairman Sean Logan announced that the project was being revived with the exception of the controversial leg from Duquesne into Pittsburgh. The leg to Oakland was dropped "because it required many residential and business displacements, had numerous environmental impacts and was unaffordable given available funding," Mr. Logan said. He added that cost reduction ideas are being incorporated into an amended design, such as a narrower median, realignment of a bridge over the Monongahela River at Duquesne, and using all-electronic toll collection, which would put the price tag of continuing the expressway to Monroeville at $1.7 billion. Joseph Kirk, a longtime champion of the project and Executive Director of the Mon Valley Progress Council, was pleased with the news, saying that it has long been needed to help revitalize a region impacted by the collapse of the steel and related industries in the 1980s. The highway would open up more than 1,000 acres of former industrial sites for development and revitalize towns that still have not recovered from the loss of more than 150,000 jobs. He has also proposed that the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway be extended about three miles to connect to the expressway and developing park-n-ride facilities to give drivers an alternate means of getting downtown, something Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said the county is interested in pursuing. Meanwhile, George Jugovic Jr., chief counsel for PennFuture, a citizens group that has opposed the expressway extension said, "There continues to be misaligned priorities. Theyíre going to spend $2 billion on more miles of highway while we donít have enough money to fix the roads and bridges we have." He did agree with the elimination of the alignment to Pittsburgh saying it "makes sense, but eliminating something thatís a really bad idea doesnít mean the rest of it is a good idea."
|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|
|Former LR Designations:||None|