Tube City Almanac

April 26, 2010

Now What, Mon-Fayette Boosters?

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

Backers of the Mon-Fayette Expressway --- including many elected officials, the city-based Regional Chamber Alliance and the Mon Valley Progress Council --- have spent the last 20 years presenting the toll road as the solution to all of the region's economic problems.

During those two decades, the "progress" council and the RCA did little to promote other infrastructure improvements, such as to mass transit or surface roads. Indeed, the RCA has spent the last several years complaining that public transportation is a waste of money.

Well, all of their efforts to promote the highway have turned out to be spectacularly ineffective.

Last week, the chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission admitted the obvious --- the unbuilt section of the toll road will probably never be constructed.

. . .

In fact, the Mon-Fayette turns out to have been the boondoggle its critics always claimed it was --- and what's been wasted has been 20 years that the Mon Valley will never get back.

That's 20 years that local business and community "leaders" could have spent advocating:
  • For improvements to important surface roads, such as Route 837, Route 48 and Lysle Boulevard.

  • For a light rail or commuter rail system.

  • For a transit merger between the three unrelated authorities that currently operate transit in the Mon Valley.

Instead, we spent all that time and $1.2 billion on an empty, useless toll road that costs millions to maintain while connecting nowhere with nowhere.

. . .

According to the Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh's WDUQ-FM radio, three private companies considered financing the section of the Mon-Fayette between Route 51 and the Parkway East, and couldn't or wouldn't raise the $4.5 billion to $5 billion necessary.

Since the state and federal governments are unable to fund the project that the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat calls "the Mo-Fo Excessway," work on the highway has come to a halt and seems unlikely to resume.

Heckuva job, Joe Kirk and J. Barry Stout. Thanks for absolutely nothing.

. . .

Back in January 2009, Tube City Almanac noted that even under the most optimistic scenarios, toll revenues would never cover the costs of building the MFX, let alone operations and maintenance.

We suggested that it would take more than 40 years just to pay off the construction bonds.

We also noted that construction of an interstate doesn't guarantee economic development for depressed urban areas.

The private sector has reached the same obvious conclusions --- the Mon-Fayette is unsustainable. And the economics of completing the highway are going to get worse, not better.

. . .

So, now what, highway advocates? Public financing failed. Private financing failed.

Do you intend to accept reality, or just double-down on your toll road gamble?

If they gamble, the losers will be all of us who live in the Mon-Yough area. And precious time that could be spent working on more productive efforts will be squandered again.

. . .

Opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Jason Togyer, executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc., and do not necessarily reflect those of the corporation, its board of directors, or its volunteers.

Responsible replies are welcome. Email them to j togyer at g mail dot com or write to
Tube City Online, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134.

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Feedback on “Now What, Mon-Fayette Boosters?”

Right On.
Adam - April 26, 2010

I totally agree. The MFX would not deliver economic revitalization and would be a complete waste of money.
John M. - April 26, 2010

Sadly these types of “boondoggles” are too common in this area! Heck we are still waiting for the street car tracks to be removed on West Fifth Ave instead of just paving over them! I was shocked to see the price tag was $1.2 BILLION — just think how much could have been done with that type of “real money.”
Donn Nemchick - April 27, 2010

If I am correct, RT 48’s upgrade to four lane from Olympia Shopping Center to Rainbow Gardens was part of the original proposed Mon Valley Expressway that MFX eventually resurrected and replaced. That was nearly 50 years ago.
Jim Owston - April 27, 2010

Help me understand you better Don. Are you saying the tracks should be left in and paved over?
Jeff - April 27, 2010

Jason — In the past, you, I, and others have commented at length about why the Mon-Fayette Expressway project was obsolete decades ago. It’s time to declare it dead. I hope that the next large capital expenditure in Our Fair Valley is directed to growth in a twenty-first century economy. In keeping with the times, I’d like to make this comment short and tweet:


Public service announcement: Mon-Fayette Expressway — waste of money, brains and time. Good-bye (Italian). Farewell (Spanish). Rest in peace. High five!

Strisi (URL) - April 27, 2010

JEFF—-full disclosure, I am not a highway engineer. I do think that removing the rails would have enabled the resurfacing to be more effective, but what do I know? My point being that I have observed too much waste, fraud and abuse of tax payer dollars in the Mon-Yough Valley over the years. We seem to be complacent with the “same old, same old.” I opine in my own snarky way – we don’t hold the politcoes to the fire enough — just look at the “strip mall” on Lysle Blvd across from the P.A.T. “Transportation Center” — it is sad to see the deplorable conditions in our area with no hope and change in sight.
Donn Nemchick - April 28, 2010


As a point of clarification, that “strip mall” on Lysle Boulevard is owned by a private developer, not a government or government agency.

I’m not being sarcastic, but I think it’s important to understand that private property owners have rights. The law sharply restricts what cities, boroughs and townships can do to a private property.

So, what do you suggest the city do?
Webmaster - April 28, 2010

What to do? Well, the total discussion would read like a master’s thesis in planning and public administration. Part of the problem, as has been discussed many times before, the Balkanization of the region. All the little separate fiefdoms don’t seem to want to cooperate on many big things. Add to that the fact that many of them, including McK, have lost much of their tax base and barely have enough to cover basic services. There are some ways to attract new business and industry, such as tax increment financing. But they have to be balanced against what the jurisdiction can afford over the long haul. I think part of the issue with the MFX was the belief by supporters in the concept of “build it and they will come”. Maybe that works in “Field of Dreams”, but usually not in the real world. Maybe there needs to be some public-private partnerships to get things moving. Take that billion dollars, mitigate the brownfields, maybe buy down the cost of the land, commit to infrastructure improvements – prime the pump.
ebtnut - April 28, 2010

Re Balkanization, alternative plans, etc.: you all might be interested in this:

I’d be very interested in hearing any feedback from anyone.
Andrea Boykowycz - April 28, 2010

i think they needed to build the part from jefferson to the parkway and to the turnpike first. also finish the part to the airport. they are the important parts then you would see the road being used. but everybody keeps blocking it. build it
build it - May 31, 2010

yes build the parts that really count to the airport and parkway and to the turnpike
for the road - November 06, 2010

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