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Legislature 'dedicates' Route 8 to Cessar

Thursday, November 08, 2001

By Virginia Miller

First there was the Butler Plank Road, then Route 8 and the William Flinn Highway.

Now, the road leading from Pittsburgh to Butler has another designation. About six weeks ago, several large signs appeared along the roadway reading "Rick Cessar Highway," honoring the former state legislator.

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It led some business people and residents to wonder if their addresses would be changed -- addresses on the road now honor Flinn, a dominant figure in Pittsburgh politics in the last decades of the 19th century.

No, they won't, according to Shaler Manager Tim Rogers and Kevin Bobyak of the state Department of Transportation.

"The highway was dedicated to [Cessar]," said Bobyak, of PennDOT District 11's traffic division. "It didn't change the name."

Rogers has been assuring callers that their addresses will stay the same. He said the township was never notified of the signs.

"It's a state road, and they can do what they want," he said. "They don't have to notify us."

State lawmakers decided, in a unanimous vote June 6, to honor Cessar, a popular former member of the State House of Representatives. House Bill 103 designated 20.5 miles of Route 8 in Allegheny County the Rick Cessar Highway and called for signs to be put up.

Bobyak said PennDOT erected four signs Sept. 18 along Route 8 from Pittsburgh to the Butler County line: one facing northbound traffic at Ardmore Boulevard near the entrance to the Penn-Lincoln Parkway at the Wilkinsburg and Forest Hills boundary line; one facing north and one south in Shaler between Maple Street and Fall Run Road, and one facing southbound traffic by Burks Lane in Richland, near the Butler line.

A Wilkinsburg public works employee said he had seen the sign but had not heard any reaction from area residents.

Hampton's new postmaster, Sigmund Pehel III, said only the U. S. Postal Service could change the address. "We haven't changed anything," he said.

Their assurances could relieve William Flinn's grandson, John Lawrence, 66, of Grove City. "I wouldn't like the idea of changing the road's name from William Flinn Highway," he said.

Lawrence would, however, like to see Flinn's name spelled right. Telephone listings and signs along the highway call it William Flynn Highway.

The name is spelled correctly -- as Flinn -- in the Rand McNally Road Atlas and on a Pittsburgh Tourguide Map. Bobyak said there are no state-maintained William Flinn (or Flynn) Highway signs, and those that are up must have been erected by the municipalities.

Flinn, who died in 1924 at the age of 73, was known as the father of roads. A state senator and chairman of the Allegheny County Republican committee, he was the "avowed political boss of Pittsburgh," according to Stephan Lorant's book, "Pittsburgh."

His company, Booth and Flinn, received most of the public contracts for parks, buildings and street paving, Lorant said, because the contracts specified the color of stone in Flinn's quarries for public buildings and the kind of asphalt he made for paving.

The $2 million William Flinn Highway between Pittsburgh and Butler opened Oct. 27, 1934. Gov. Gifford Pinchot attended the dedication, calling it "the most modern roadway in Pennsylvania."

The highway succeeded the old Butler Plank Road. It shortened the driving time between the two cities by 45 minutes by removing curves and three railroad crossings, a newspaper clipping said.

Flinn's daughter and Lawrence's adoptive mother, Mary Flinn Lawrence, lived a few miles from the highway on an estate along Saxonburg Boulevard. In 1976, she donated the mansion and land to Allegheny County for a park called Hartwood. Volunteers there are preparing the 73-year-old mansion for Christmas tours.

Sylvia Easler of Shaler has connections to both Flinn and Cessar: She worked as an aide to Cessar for years, and is now managing Hartwood as part of her position as recreation superintendent for Allegheny County Parks.

The new signs had puzzled her and other passersby. "I couldn't understand how they could take it from the senator and give it to someone else," she said.

Cessar, for his part, worked tirelessly to ensure funding for highways. He was instrumental in the Etna Bypass, having turn lanes installed along Route 8 and funding improvements to the section of Route 28 between Etna and Millvale formerly known as the "death stretch."

Annette Ganassi, whose Oldsmobile dealership is along the Flinn/Flynn/Cessar highway, said Cessar is deserving of the honor.

"I think it's a marvelous tribute to a man who has done a lot for this area. He was extremely helpful when he was in the Legislature and continues to do so today," she said.

Virginia Miller is a free-lance writer.

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