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Murphy doesn't appear, but is said to be warming to northern alignment

Friday, March 20, 1998

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Mayor Murphy, who has been cool to state Turnpike Commission plans for the Mon-Fayette Expressway, was conspicuous by his absence yesterday at Gov. Ridge's news conference about funding for the road.

But Ridge said he and Murphy were still friends, and County Commissioner Mike Dawida said he and colleague Bob Cranmer were bringing the mayor around to support the segment of the highway that is to run along the northern bank of the Monongahela River into Pittsburgh.

And Murphy spokeswoman Margaret McCormick Barron said the mayor isn't opposed to the highway -- as long as several conditions are met to protect new residential and economic development plans.

Barron said Murphy wanted to ensure that the Mon-Fayette highway didn't disrupt the city's plans to build housing atop a slag heap by Nine Mile Run; doesn't hurt efforts to attract a modern coke-making plant at the site of the old LTV coke plant in Hazelwood; doesn't have a negative impact on the Riverview Center for Jewish Seniors off Browns Hill Road; and doesn't rip apart Hazelwood the way Interstate 279 necessitated removal of homes in the East Street Valley and the way Route 65 split Manchester.

"History is coming into play here -- the experiences with Route 65 and the East Street Valley Expressway," she said. Murphy "feels that, (20 years ago) as a legislator, he may not have taken as much responsibility as he should have to ensure that the design of those highways didn't disrupt city neighborhoods.

"He feels an obligation to see that a major highway like the Mon-Fayette won't inhibit the development of a new neighborhood (above Nine Mile Run) or make it less marketable, or negatively impact Hazelwood."

Murphy worked hard to keep a firm called Kerotest from leaving the city, finding it a new site off Second Avenue in Hazelwood, and doesn't want that firm hurt by the highway construction, Barron said.

Murphy had a previous commitment for a speech elsewhere yesterday afternoon that he could't break, and that's why he didn't attend the news conference, Barron said.

In an interview after his speech, Ridge said he was as eager as Murphy to lure the new coke plant to Hazelwood and would work to ensure that the Mon-Fayette Expressway didn't damage any city projects.

"The mayor and I work closely together on a wide range of projects, including economic development," Ridge said. "I have a great deal of respect for my friend, Mayor Murphy. The mayor is a pretty stand-up guy. He's certainly no shrinking violet.

"Right now it appears there is a disagreement between the mayor and the Turnpike Commission" over the highway's route, Ridge said. Murphy would prefer for the road to be built along the southern bank of the Mon, through Munhall and Homestead, to avoid disturbing city projects on the northern bank.

"The mayor has some concerns, primarily about residential and economic activity," Ridge said. "I would just say that the Turnpike Commission, the consultants, the governor's office -- everybody has those same concerns. We'll work very hard to address them with him."

Ridge said he had been involved "in just about every meeting" regarding a new coke plant in Hazelwood at the site of the old LTV plant.

"We think there's a possibility we can bring new technology into that site, and there could be a cogeneration capacity (for generating electricity.) We might be able to turn it into a power park," he said. "A good road close to the power park might enhance its marketability. We view a road as a positive improvement."

Ridge said there were still three potential routes under consideration for the segment of the Mon-Fayette highway into Pittsburgh, and that a final decision wouldn't be made until 2000.

"We will look for the best engineering solution that does as little interference in the business and residential and commercial activities in the community, one that has the greatest environmental benefit," he said.

Dawida said he and Cranmer, who have worked with Murphy on plans for stadium and convention center construction, were using that same cooperation on the Mon-Fayette route.

"Bob and I met with Tom. We had a 'heart to heart,"' Dawida said yesterday. "The mayor is comfortable now (with the road plans). He's on board."

Dawida and Cranmer pledged to work to make sure the road didn't disrupt the city's efforts to build the new housing atop the slag heap and to try to attract the new coke plan, Dawida said.

"The mayor wants to make sure we don't throw those projects out, and we agreed with that," he said.

In a separate interview yesterday, Cranmer said he and Dawida "feel that we'll be able to bring the mayor along in this. He has stated that he is willing to cooperate with us and with the county. We'll be able to work through this."

Nonetheless, the third county commissioner, Larry Dunn, chastised Murphy for his stance and his "negativity."

"It makes no sense to me whatsoever why the mayor is so opposed to the Mon-Fayette Expressway," Dunn said. "For the mayor to come out at the last minute opposing it, to me is negativity at its worst."

Staff writer Mark Belko contributed to this report.

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