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Highway will have 'minimal impact' -- except for those affected

Wednesday, August 08, 2001

By Ann Belser, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Monroeville -- Carl Eles was standing outside his business last week when he first heard that it may have to be moved to make way for the Mon-Fayette Expressway.

On the Expressway

Fourth of five articles on the impact of the Mon-Fayette Expressway on the East communities.

Other articles in the series:

Part One: Braddock area: A region divided over expressway plans

Part Two: The Mon-Fayette Expressway is the second partitioning of Turtle Creek

Part Three: Wilkins wonders about impact of expressway

Part Five: Ramp seen as boon to area of Penn Hills


"If this highway comes through, we'll get out of the way," he said.

Eles, 42, of Thornburg, is now the general manager of Eles Concrete, which the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission listed as Davis Saw Co.

The mistake is understandable. Eles said he bought the Davis Saw Co. building after that company closed and never painted over the sign.

The plan for the expressway calls for the roadway to follow the Union Railroad tracks alongside Thompson Run up to the bridge near the Sri Venkateswara (Hindu) Temple where the Parkway East passes over the Thompson Run Valley.

In Monroeville, that will mean relocating Thompson Run Road and turning Northern Pike into a dead end. To do that, the turnpike commission would have to knock down 12 homes and three businesses in Monroeville. In addition to the concrete company, the benefits office for the Operating Engineers Local 66 and Robert P. Ertzen Associates Inc., a firm that sells building maintenance products on South McCully Road, also will have to be moved to make way for the highway.

The turnpike commission has estimated the cost of the 24 miles of highway linking Route 51 in Jefferson Hills to Interstate 376 in Monroeville with a leg to Oakland at $1.2 billion.

State Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, says that money will buy future prosperity for the Mon Valley.

"This Mon-Fayette Expressway is a must. It has to happen for the Mon Valley to rejuvenate itself," he said.

Logan, a former mayor of Monroeville, now represents much of the Mon Valley and the thriving eastern suburbs of Monroeville, Plum and Murrysville. The difference between those communities that are struggling and those which are thriving, he said, is the access to highways.

He said "I feel sorry" for the residents who will have their homes taken to make way for the roadway. "With progress comes negatives and one of the negatives is people who have to relocate," he said.

Marilyn Skolnick of Monroeville, the president of the Allegheny County Transit Council, said there are better ways to spend more than $1 billion than on a new highway.

"It's not a lack of highways, darn it. If you look at a map, we're crawling with highways. They're not kept up," she said.

Skolnick said a new highway will bring more traffic to an already congested Monroeville and will allow developers to bypass the Mon Valley in order to build farther from Pittsburgh.

"The easier you make it to bypass the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, the farther out they're going to develop and then you have traffic jams again," she said.

When anyone east of Pittsburgh discusses the planned highway, the Squirrel Hill Tunnel figures prominently in the talks.

Skolnick said she has solved the problem of getting past the tunnels by avoiding that area of the parkway and driving alternate routes.

John Sterling, 38, of Penn Township, described driving to Oakland and Downtown from Monroeville as a "nightmare. It's a joke," he said. "Our roads are so dated here."

Marshall Bond, Monroeville's municipal manager, said the municipality supports building the new roadway.

"We think it will represent significant relief for persons going to the city of Pittsburgh and think it will be a significant improvement for people in the eastern suburbs," he said. "In Monroeville's case, the impact is minimal. Of course if you're one of those 'minimals,' it's not minimal."

One of those people who will be affected by the roadway is David Barkley, 42, who moved into a house on Thompson Run Road knowing it may someday become a casualty to the expressway.

The house, a two-story blue clapboard home, is below the back parking lot of Sam's Club in an area that is remarkably quiet.

"I always drove past and thought it was a cute house," he said.

Then he had a chance to rent it.

"I said I'm here for the duration until they tear it down. It's peaceful," he said.

Down the street at Eles Concrete, Eles said he thinks building the expressway is a good idea.

The company was started in 1955 by Eles' father, Gilbert Eles.

The Eles family trucks in the ingredients for concrete and then sends it out in a dozen mixer trucks to construction sites.

As he looked around his company on a hot and frustrating day of business, he said, "I hope they have a lot of money. ... I hope to hell they take the whole thing."

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