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Six more miles of Mon-Fayette Expressway to open Wednesday

The South Hills

Sunday, February 27, 2000

By Joe Grata, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

So many roads are closing for repairs, you may find it strange to be reading about one that's opening.

But on Wednesday morning, six more miles of the Mon-Fayette Expressway will open in Fayette County, the most miles of all-new highway in the region since the Airport Expressway in Allegheny County and the Greensburg Bypass in Westmoreland County were finished eight years ago.

 
    Southern Beltway and Mon-Fayette Expressway projects map

 
 

Gov. Ridge is scheduled to attend Wednesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony near what's called "Big Six Road" in Georges Township.

Motorists will be able to access the expressway south of Uniontown and travel to interchanges at Ruble Mill Road in Georges and Gans Road in Springhill Township, thereby gaining an alternative to hilly, two-lane Route 857.

However, motorists will have to exit to Route 857 or drive rural roads to travel into West Virginia. While the new road is completed to the Pennsylvania-West Virginia line, the last 1.6 miles will stay closed until West Virginia builds a 4.5-mile connection to Interstate 68, east of Cheat Lake.

Meanwhile, work will start next month on the final contract that will result in completing a 17-mile section between Interstate 70, Fallowfield, and Route 51, Large. The $21.8 million contract involves a massive Route 51 interchange and 450-space park-and-ride lot -- work not expected to interfere significantly with heavily traveled Route 51.

 
  Week targets work zones

The federal government, two professional organizations and an industry group have designated April 3-7 as "National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week" to increase attention levels of drivers when they encounter construction.

Over the past decade, more than 8,000 people have died in work zones -- drivers, passengers, flaggers, inspectors and construction workers, according to the Federal Highway Administration, one of the safety campaign sponsors.

The other sponsors are the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Traffic Safety Services Association and the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials.

Goals of the specially designated week include encouraging drivers to exercise greater caution and care while driving through construction zones and communicating to contractors and workers how delays frustrate drivers and can cause aggressive behavior.

In Pennsylvania, which conducts its own "Give 'em a brake" campaign during highway construction season, fines are doubled for speeding and other traffic violations in work zones.

   
 

"By the end of next year, 34 miles of the expressway will be completed, about half of the total project," said Tom Fox, the community involvement coordinator for the Pennsylvania Turnpike-sponsored expressway. "This will create a new window of opportunity for travel and economic development."

The miles of open expressway add up to 34 because of segments built by the state Department of Transportation and turned over to the turnpike to incorporate in the expressway: a 4-mile, so-called Chadville section south of Uniontown, opened in 1992, and a 6-mile Washington County section between Brownsville and I-70 in Fallowfield, open since 1990.

The remaining "missing links" in the Mon-Fayette Expressway are in various stages of planning: the Uniontown-to-Brownsville section and a Route 51-to-Pittsburgh section, leaving gaps of about 15 miles and 16 miles respectively, not including a "spur" to the Parkway East near Monroeville to create a Squirrel Hill Tunnel bypass.

The $2 billion expressway mainline roughly follows the Monongahela River valley from Pittsburgh south through Hazelwood, Braddock, Duquesne, Finleyville, North Charleroi, Brownsville and Uniontown to Interstate 68 in West Virginia.

Because West Virginia has fallen behind schedule and the turnpike can't take full advantage of the so-called "Mason-Dixon Link" for about three more years, Pennsylvania officials expect low traffic volumes on the new section south of Uniontown.

"We won't start to realize full potential until the West Virginia and Uniontown-to-Brownsville links are finished, opening all of the expressway and interchanges as far north as Allegheny County," Fox said.

Tolls are likely to be a disincentive, too.

Car and pickup truck drivers will be charged 75 cents to travel the 6.2 miles opening next week south of Uniontown. Drivers of five-axle tractor-trailers will have to ante up $3.

Toll collection will be automated. For example, at the mainline toll plaza south of Big Six Road, the machines are programmed to dispense quarters for change -- up to 17 quarters for motorists who deposit a $5 bill. The plazas do not have toll collectors.

The 7.6-mile newest section of the Mon-Fayette Expressway cost $140 million to construct. The estimated cost for engineering, property acquisition and utility relocation is $6 million.



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