Tube City Almanac

April 27, 2010

A Modest Proposal: Now, Let's Get to Work

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

It's surprising how many disconnected sections of four-lane highway exist in the Mon-Yough area. Some, like the four-lane section of Route 48 between White Oak and Eden Park, are legacies of bigger projects that were never completed, such as the fabled "Route 48 Expressway" extensively documented at the Gribble Nation website.

Others (such as the four-lane segment of Route 837 in Duquesne and West Mifflin, or Lysle Boulevard in the city) were apparently designed to serve localized problems, but were never linked to anything else.

These four-lane segments feed into two-lane roads, creating choke points. The two-lane portion of East Fifth Avenue (Route 148) is a notorious bottleneck during afternoon rush hours. The two-lane McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge between four-lane Lysle Boulevard and Route 837 is another mess. So is Lebanon Church Road, which goes down to two lanes east of Buttermilk Hollow Road.

Now, with the news that the state Turnpike Commission has discontinued work on the Mon-Fayette Expressway, it appears that the Mon-Yough area is getting another disconnected four-lane highway.

. . .

But what if those segments were connected and turned into a network of urban boulevards or highways? Bottlenecks such as East Fifth Avenue and Lebanon Church Road in Dravosburg would be mitigated.

And what if those disconnected segments of road received unified state route numbers? No longer would you have to give directions by telling people, "take Lysle Boulevard to West Fifth Avenue, cross the Mansfield Bridge, go up Richland Avenue, make a left at Lebanon Church Road."

Instead, you'd just say, "Take Route 937 south."

. . .

Here's a modest proposal for Mon-Yough officials who have been backing the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Let's try something like this instead:
  • A Mon-Fayette Highway (extending Route 43) that connects the Mon-Fayette Expressway via West Mifflin, Hays and Glenwood, using reconstructed parts of Route 885, Mifflin Road and Second Avenue to enter Pittsburgh

  • A Tri-Valley Highway ("Route 937") using Lebanon Church Road, Lysle Boulevard and Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard to connect Route 51, Century III Mall and McKeesport with Business Route 22

  • A Steel Valley Highway which realigns part of Route 837 and includes a new McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge, to connect McKeesport and Kennywood with the Mon-Fayette Highway

. . .

True, these highways wouldn't be limited access. Speeds would be typically 40 or 45 miles per hour, not 55 or 65.

But instead of bypassing communities such as McKeesport --- which the Mon-Fayette Expressway proposes --- these highways would take traffic directly through the heart of our communities. This would increase the value of commercial, retail and industrial properties.

Think about Ardmore Boulevard, and what an asset it provides to Forest Hills and Chalfant.

And because these surface highways would provide many access points, not just off-ramps, they could be used daily by local residents, not just people passing through on their way someplace else. Sidewalks and bike paths along the right-of-ways would encourage pedestrian use.

. . .

There are significant costs associated, of course. Some complicated and expensive construction would be needed. For example, a new four-lane bridge would need to replace the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge. (Of course, that 1927-vintage bridge is already rated "functionally obsolete" by the state Department of Transportation. So it's due for replacement anyway.)

A few of the construction projects would be very disruptive. Creating our "Mon-Fayette Highway" requires connecting Route 51 with the current Route 885 near Community College of Allegheny County's South Campus. That means replacing or reconstructing Lewis Run Road, which would displace or inconvenience homeowners and businesses.

Ditto for linking Turtle Creek with Business Route 22 via the Larimer Avenue corridor. Many homes and businesses would be uprooted.

But many of those same homes and businesses would also be uprooted by construction of the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Arguably, our proposal offers less disruption and more potential benefit to the surrounding neighborhoods.

. . .

Our proposal also suggests that changes in traffic patterns would accommodate many of the necessary improvements. Take the Mon-Fayette Highway's entrance into Pittsburgh.

What if we constructed a new street parallel to Second Avenue in Hazelwood? And what if we then made the new parallel street one-way headed south, and Second Avenue was one-way headed north? A minimum of properties would be demolished and Second Avenue could continue to accommodate a parking lane on one side.

A similar solution would carry our "Steel Valley Highway" through West Homestead, Homestead and Munhall. The northbound lanes of Route 837 would be moved to Seventh Avenue, and the southbound lanes moved to Eighth Avenue.

There are plenty of local precedents for such situations, including Route 906 in Monessen and along U.S. Route 30 between Youngstown and Ligonier.

. . .

How realistic are our proposals? While we're journalists, not engineers, we suspect that replacement of the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge might cost $80 million. Rebuilding portions of Second Avenue and constructing a new parallel street in Hazelwood would likely cost $20 million to $40 million. The connection between Turtle Creek and Business Route 22 would be expensive.

But extending the Mon-Fayette Expressway through the Mon-Yough area is estimated at $4 billion. Surely a network of improvements surface roads could be constructed at much less cost --- perhaps a tenth of the cost.

In addition, each of these improvements can be constructed independently, and the local benefits would accrue immediately.

. . .

All of these ideas seem in retrospect somewhat obvious, and you might rightly ask why no one has proposed these kinds of things before.

In fact, many of these ideas have been suggested. But no one was listening.

In 2008, one of the most vocal opponents of the Mon-Fayette Expressway --- Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, or PennFuture --- launched a website called Mon Valley Land Use and Transportation.

Located at, the website shows many of the unbuilt infrastructure proposals of the past 20 years, and estimates their cost in 2008 dollars.

The Mon Valley "urban boulevards" on the website, for instance, incorporate things like a new connector near Lewis Run Road, and a replacement for the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge.

. . .

Those and other improvements were first proposed to the Allegheny County Commissioners back in 1987, but were never constructed, because state and local elected officials and business leaders --- including the Mon Valley Progress Council and the Regional Chamber Alliance --- instead spent their time pushing for construction of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

Big projects can capture our imagination, even when they're not practical. With the Iraq War floundering, President Bush in 2004 tried to recapture some of the excitement surrounding the space program of the 1960s. He proposed returning astronauts to the moon by 2015.

This year, the Obama Administration announced that another moon landing was likely to be very expensive and provide little scientific benefit, and that it was scrapping the project.

. . .

Just like another moon landing, the Mon-Fayette Expressway is an expensive 1960s idea that we can't afford. It would provide very little benefit for the amount of money required.

For decades, our elected officials and business leaders have been blocking out objections and input from PennFuture and other opponents of the Mon-Fayette Expressway. Those opponents and their criticism of the toll road have proved to be accurate and prescient, to our shame and misfortune.

If the Mon-Fayette's boosters want to atone for their past shortsightedness, maybe they should visit and refresh their memories about some of the older, less-expensive proposals for improving our infrastructure.

Then, let's all brush off those old plans and get to work. The "Mo-Fo Excessway" is dead. Let's not waste any more time.

. . .

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.

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Tube City Online, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134.

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Makes good sense all around. Hope decision makers are paying attention.
John M. - April 28, 2010

Ardmore? An asset to Chalfant? You like scaling cliffs much?

Vinnie’s is in North Braddock…
Derrick Brashear - April 28, 2010

I on;y periodically check your blog so I apologize for my late comment.You wrote a very good and a very well reasoned article.I agree that this project lost momentum some time ago and given the huge cost will not be built anytime soon if ever.It is now even less likely because of the huge PA budget shortfall due to the denial of the state’s plan to toll nterstate 80.The word “fiasco” best describes the current state administration’s transportation funding plans.
Matt Paunovich - May 09, 2010

- August 13, 2014

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