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Mon-Fayette Expressway: Ramp seen as boon to area of Penn Hills

Development of land near Thompson Run road likely

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

By Ann Belser, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Daryl Mead is a Californian, but he remembers the March blizzard of 1993 as well as anybody in Pittsburgh.

 
 
On the Expressway


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

Previous 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 Four: Monroeville: Highway will have 'minimal impact' -- except for those affected

   
 

That was when he bought land off of Thompson Run Road in Penn Hills to get the old industrial equipment at the former Atlas Cement plant in Penn Hills.

Mead, 58, of Rosamond, Calif., is in the business of industrial salvage. The plant, at that time, was owned by Lehigh Concrete, which wanted to unload both the equipment and the 200 acres of property.

Usually Mead buys only the equipment at salvage.

"I thought this was such a pretty area the land will sell naturally," he said. He figured he would be in and out of the deal in five years.

Eight years later, Penn Hills also would like to see that property sold to be used as an industrial park. In the last year, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has made that land even more attractive by planning to build a ramp to Thompson Run Road, just half a mile from the property. That ramp may provide Mead with a way to get out of Penn Hills.

Of all of the eastern suburbs that will be affected by the Mon-Fayette Expressway, Penn Hills will have the most benefits with the fewest drawbacks. The municipality will not lose any homes or businesses to the expressway and, with the Thompson Run Road ramp, will gain direct access to an undeveloped and hard to reach area of the municipality.

If an industrial park is built there, trucks will be able to come and go without affecting other areas of Penn Hills.

It took about two years for Penn Hills to convince the commission to agree to build the interchange.

Penn Hills Planning Director Howard Davidson said when he first looked at the plans for the Mon-Fayette Expressway, he quickly realized there were no plans for a ramp to Penn Hills.

"When we were first showed plans I whispered in the mayor's ear, 'you can't get on it,' " Davidson said.

Those initial plans set off an intensive lobbying effort by Penn Hills officials to get a ramp that could direct traffic to the brownfield, the largest useable area of undeveloped property in the municipality.

 
 
More on Penn Hills:

Highway may be the road out of town for salvage operator

Mon-Fayette Expressway proposals

   
 

"You're looking at 500 acres of industrial property," Davidson said.

He said the land should be even more desirable to potential developers because it is owned by two parties, Mead's company, which is MM&G Associates, and USX, which owns the slag heap.

"We argued that in the design of the Mon-Fayette Expressway they made a mistake by ignoring this 500 acres of land, and the way to correct the mistake was to provide a ramp," Davidson said.

Plans now call for building a ramp that will connect to Thompson Run Road, which will provide access to that site. Turnpike Commission spokesman Joe Agnello said that during the process of designing the highway, the commission has refined the plans.

While originally there wasn't an interchange planned for that area, now the expressway ramps will allow for northbound traffic to exit and drivers to enter the new expressway heading southbound in a kind of half interchange.

The ramp will run from the expressway to a rebuilt Thompson Run Road, and the new roadway will extend up to the site that Penn Hills wants to develop. Agnello said the ramps and the new roadway will add $10 million to the $1.2 billion total for the expressway, all of it paid for by the commission.

Not everyone in Penn Hills sees just the positive effects the highway could have on the town.

Joyce Stephenson, 61, already has trouble sleeping at night. Her house, on Greylock Drive, overlooks the Parkway East. The contour of the hills there act like a megaphone for the traffic sounds, funneling them into her back yard, she said.

She said she believes in the purpose of the proposed expressway and will use it to drive to Duquesne to see relatives, but she also knows her house will be above the ramps that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission plans to build, which will increase the truck noise.

"We do joke that as you get older you do lose your hearing," she said.



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