PG NewsPG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search post-gazette.com by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions

Weather

Headlines by E-mail

Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health & Science Magazine Forum

Behind the Mon-Fayette Expressway

Project honors J.Barry Stout, political king of the roads

Sunday, January 23, 2000

By Joe Grata, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The four-lane J. Barry Stout Highway is to be completed and open to the public in the fall of 2001.

So what is the J. Barry Stout Highway?

 
  State Senator. J. Barry Stout (Tony Tye, Post-Gazette photo)

It has been known and written about as the Mon-Fayette Expressway for the past two decades. It is a 17-mile, $475 million segment of the toll road from Interstate 70 in Washington County north to Route 51 in Large, southern Allegheny County.

Although it's only part of a larger system of roads being developed by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the J. Barry Stout Highway is bigger than four other new limited-access highways built in Western Pennsylvania in recent decades: Interstate 279 from Pittsburgh to the North Hills, the Airport Expressway (Route 60) at Pittsburgh International Airport, the Beaver Valley Expressway and the Greensburg Bypass.

So who is J. Barry Stout?

Stout, 63, who lives a mile or two outside Bentleyville, is an unabashed "old school pol," a member of the state House and state Senate since 1970.

To supporters of the Mon-Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway - a 95-mile, $3 billion package of highways - he is the benefactor, using his goodwill, arm-twisting, political war chest and positions as Democratic caucus administrator and on the Senate Transportation Committee to bring home the bacon.

Stout also can be considered the father of the largest gas tax increases in state history.

"He has been the hero, the one who lined up and delivered all of the tough votes," said Joe Kirk, chairman of the Mon-Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway Alliance, which advocates the toll roads. "Without Barry, the projects would have no momentum. We'd still be at the starting gate."

 
    More on the story

Expressway progresses but more money is needed

Turnpike notifies property owners of alignment evaluations along Southern Beltway

PG Online Map: Southern Beltway and Mon-Fayette Expressway Projects

 
 

Stout also has drawn scrutiny because, while he champions transportation spending, he is a wealthy partner in several transportation-related business ventures.

His companies do most of their business out of state. The few Pennsylvania contracts they have won in recent years were through competitive bidding, with no favoritism, Stout said.

If you ask constituents about Stout, "A lot of them will say, 'He pushes highways,' " Kirk said. "If you ask people in Pittsburgh, they probably haven't even heard about him."

That will change a bit when people start driving the highway named for him, an honor bestowed "while I'm still vertical," Stout noted.

"Please note that it's not the 'memorial' highway yet, will you?" Stout said.

In playing a key role generating more than $1 billion for the projects so far, Stout has asserted that they are needed to reverse the region's long economic decline and exodus of young people.

In 1991, when then-Gov. Robert P. Casey sought enough votes to bail his administration out of a budget deficit, Stout withheld his and those of enough colleagues until Casey agreed to earmark 0.7 cents of a 5-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase for toll road expansion.

It was the first time nationally that fuel taxes were designated for another agency for such a purpose - in this case the Turnpike Commission, which has used the $42 million a year to finance bonds for the Mon-Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway studies and construction.

In 1997, when Gov. Ridge sought to increase the gas tax as well as motor vehicle registration, licenses and other fees, Stout delivered only after Ridge agreed to appropriate another $28 million a year for the toll roads.

"Call it quid pro quo, negotiations, compromise," Stout said. "I guarantee you the money didn't just fall out of a tree. [Casey and Ridge] were surprised at the support I had."

"He has taken every sling and arrow [from expressway opponents], but there is no greater advocate for building transportation systems," said state Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "It's nice to recognize him for all the years he has toiled in the fields."

When the 17-mile J. Barry Stout portion opens by Thanksgiving 2001, more than half of the 65-mile Mon-Fayette Expressway will be in operation.

'Kid from Bentleyville'

As state senator, Stout represents a Democratic stronghold: all of Greene County, almost all of Washington County, nine municipalities in Beaver County and Monessen in Westmoreland County.

His interest in politics goes back to when the late U.S. Rep. Thomas Morgan, D-Fredericktown, used to stop at his parents' house to "shoot the bull" with William B. Stout, his father.

"It would be late at night, and I was still in junior high when I would sit at the kitchen table listening to Dr. Tom tell war stories about Washington, D.C. Mom always had baked goods and Dad always had some drinkin' whiskey for him."

When Austin Murphy of Monongahela left a state House seat to succeed Morgan in Congress, Barry Stout sought Murphy's seat at age 33. He had married the former Lenore Thompson and worked in her father's funeral home.

"The Washington County Democrats, muckety-mucks who pretty well controlled things, called me the little kid from Bentleyville and ignored me," Stout said. "But when you had a father-in-law in the funeral business for 50 years and a dad who knew who his loyal Democrat friends were, you had a chance."

After a narrow upset win, Stout stuck his political neck out early, casting votes for the state's first income tax and for the state lottery.

"I got hate mail from across the state, and my Presbyterian grandmother probably rolled over in her grave," he said. "But if it weren't for the lottery, senior citizens wouldn't have it quite as good today."

Stout was elected to the Senate in a special election in May 1977 and has become a leader of Washington County Democrats. His opposition has been nil or token in recent elections.

Company man

If Stout is a millionaire, he doesn't show it.

His Senate salary, per diems, car and other perks are worth close to $90,000 a year. His wife helps operate and the couple owns a majority interest in the Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home in Bentleyville.

Stout is a director and owns 35 percent of Stout Group Ltd. and subsidiaries, including the Marta Track Construction Co. and Atlas Railroad Construction Co., headquartered in Eighty Four. Marta has become one of the nation's leading rail contractors.

Stout's financial disclosure statements show he owns stock in Atlas Equipment Leasing Co. and Unity Railway Co., an abandoned Allegheny County short-line railroad whose rail, ties and stone ballast were reclaimed and recycled.

"I don't know about being a millionaire," Stout said, "but I've been fortunate over the years. I live comfortably but not excessively."

Stout Group Ltd. is run by his oldest brother, Phillip, of North Strabane. The company's and affiliates' work has ranged from excavating sites for Star Lake Amphitheatre and Southpointe to transit projects in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

The Stout companies have recently been doing about $100 million of business a year, including some local projects for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Port Authority of Allegheny County.

"The public work we've done in Pennsylvania is minuscule" compared with overall billings, Barry Stout said. "Everything that we've been involved with has been done through the open bid process. We have never received favorable treatment because of my position [in politics], and we don't want it."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette examined records dating back 10 years and found no contracts for any of Stout's companies on the Mon-Fayette Expressway. In addition, the companies have not been contractors or subcontractors on any PennDOT reconstruction projects on Interstates 70 or 79 in the Washington County area, both of which are near company headquarters.

The following public projects did show up: a $6.2 million light rail track repair for the Port Authority in 1997-99 and a $197,562 railroad bridge repair contract with the Fayette County Redevelopment Authority in 1997, both by Atlas Railroad Construction Co.; a $12.2 million Route 60 interchange project for PennDOT in 1994 and a $1.6 million wetlands construction contract with PennDOT in 1995, both by the Stout Group; and a $1.2 million Beaver Valley Expressway wetlands construction contract with the Turnpike Commission in 1992 by the Atlas Service Corp.

Vince Dopko, spokesman for the State Ethics Commission, said state law permitted public officials such as Stout to have outside business interests. If they have a conflict, such as being in position to award a construction contract to one of their own businesses, they must abstain from the vote. If public officials are awarded a contract worth more than $500, it must be through public bidding.

Family involvement

The Stouts live in a modest, seven-room brick ranch house in Somerset Township, near Bentleyville. It's now an empty nest because all six children have finished school and moved out.

Lisa teaches school in Kentucky and Shannon teaches in Elkton, Md. Lori teaches graphic arts locally. Sharee and Bethany, 21, the youngest, own and manage CityNet, a South Side-based Internet service. Son John, 29, has been managing a transit construction project in Atlanta for Marta, the biggest of the Stout Group subsidiaries.

"Every one of them went to a different college," Stout said. "Every one of them was required to work over the summer. Not one of them ever worked for the state."

Stout said he had heard the rumors: The kids have been set up with state jobs; Stout family members have bought key parcels of property whose value will increase because of its proximity to the Mon-Fayette Expressway or Southern Beltway; and Stout's health is failing.

The only one with some basis, Stout said, is the one about his health. He had quadruple heart bypass surgery in 1995 and spine-fusion surgery last year.

Although he has been taking pain pills and tires easily, the health problems haven't set him back much personally or politically. "I'm somewhere every day," he said.

Through the 1990s, he has maintained a campaign fund of about $250,000. "You've got to be prepared," he said. "As it stands now, I'll be running" for re-election in 2002.

Most contributors are people and political action groups that one would expect to support a minority party chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, a member of the State Transportation Commission and Democratic caucus administrator.

They include engineering consultants, materials suppliers, road-builders and others who do business with PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission.

Most of the contributions come in the form of tickets - $250 for golf and another $250 for dinner - to his annual outing, the biggest event of the year at Nemacolin Country Club, only a few miles from his home, and a sellout every time.

Everyone leaves the outing with a souvenir - toy "Stout" trucks one year, Sarris candy from Canonsburg another year. There's always music, steak dinner and top-shelf whiskey. Tethered hot-air balloon rides were given last year.

Roger Carrier, a former PennDOT District 11 engineer who owns a consulting business, TriLine Associates in Washington County, has been buying two tickets just about every year.

"I get a lot of letters [for political contributions] but I don't respond to all of them," he said. "I go to Barry's outing because I think he represents good government and because his event is almost like a convention of the people we do business with. The single biggest thing I learned at PennDOT is not all elected officials are crooks and bums. ... Most of them are hard-working, dedicated people. When it comes to serving his constituents, Barry is king of them all."

Stout has been able to contribute significant amounts to local, county and state candidates, including other Senate and House members, "even colleagues on the other side of the aisle," he said. In turn, he builds clout and political IOUs for occasions when he needs votes for Mon-Fayette Expressway funding, for example.

"People want to go to heaven but they don't want to die," Stout said of colleagues who voice support for the Mon-Fayette Expressway and other highway projects but vote against the taxes to finance them.

Want another Stoutism?

"Scissors-hands" is what he calls the no-tax-vote lawmakers when they show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and push their way into the front for publicity photos.

Stout is convinced that the Mon-Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway are linchpins of the future, not only for constituents but for the region. With the demise of steel and other heavy manufacturing industries, which largely relied on rivers and rails for transportation, modern, limited-access highways are necessary to promote the businesses and developments that will prevail in the 21st century, he said.

"I don't know that they're the panacea," Stout said. "But I can safely say that our chances are slim to none without them. We can't keep raising our kids in the Pittsburgh region without providing jobs and a future."

Stout said he would continue to do what is politically necessary to raise the remaining $2 billion - the latest estimate - to finish what has become the most expensive public works project in Pennsylvania history.

"If the most partisan person on the other side of the legislative aisle wants a new bridge in exchange for his vote" for the Mon-Fayette Expressway, Stout said, "I'll be for it."



bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy