Mon Fayette Expressway completed PA51 Jefferson Hills to WV/I-68: 60 miles now open
2012-07-16: Around lunchtime today (Monday) the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) opened an intermediate stretch of the Mon Fayette Expressway (MFE) PA43 around Brownsville including a major bridge over the Monongahela River. Called Phase 2 Brownsville to Unionville the segment filled a gap.
With the opening today there is now a continuous 60 miles of expressway designated state route 43 north up the Monongahela Valley from Interstate 68 near Morgantown/Cheat Lake in West Virginia to Jefferson Hills. As the proverbial straight flying crow flies that northern terminus of the MFE is just 11 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.
$1.8 billion have been spent on those 60 miles of 2x2 lane toll expressway over 20 years, by far the largest single project of the PTC in that period.
Turnpike Commission chairman Chairman William K. Lieberman is quoted today: “With the completion this month of the Uniontown-to-Brownsville project, three of the four Mon/Fayette sections will be open to traffic, creating 60 continuous miles of new expressway from I-68 in West Virginia to Route 51 in Jefferson Hills Borough. We’re proud of the fact that we have completed three-fourths of the assigned Mon/Fayette projects, and will continue to seek new funding for the remaining segment.”
Highlights of the Uniontown-to-Brownsville Phase 2 project opened today as described by the PTC include:
- a new maintenance facility adjacent to the existing Searights Interchange (Exit 18)
- a $96m concrete box girder bridge, 3,022ft long that takes traffic 200ft high over the deep valley of the Monongahela River (see picture and companies involves nearby)
- interchanges at Redstone Way (IC22), Bull Run Road (IC26) and Pa. Route 88 (IC28)
- a new interchange (IC15) that connects the southern end of the Phase-1 project with PA51 and US119.
Construction managers for Uniontown-to-Brownsville Phase 2 were SAI Consulting Engineers Inc., Pittsburgh and Trumbull Corp./Maguire Group, Inc., Pittsburgh.
Contractors were New Enterprise Stone and Lime, New Enterprise, Mashuda Corp Cranberry Township, Trumbull Corp Pittsburgh; Mosites Construction, Pittsburgh; McKamish Pittsburgh; Power Contracting, Carnegie, Golden Triangle Corp Imperial, Walsh Construction Chicago.
Phase 2 engineering design consultants were AECOM Pittsburgh, FIGG Engineering Tallahassee FL, Mackin Engineering Pittsburgh, GAI Consultants Pittsburgh, HDR Pittsburgh.
Roger Nutt CEO at the PTC is quoted: "Completion of this project represents a major milestone in the development of one of the largest ground-transportation projects in the United States. With the support of PennDOT, the Turnpike Commission has invested in a roadway that will connect Fayette and Washington counties to 60 miles of high-speed, limited access highway and, with it, unprecedented economic development opportunities, especially in meeting the needs of the fast emerging natural-gas industry."
Stretches of the complete Monfayette Expressway (MFE) proper at PA51 Jefferson Hills south are:
- PA51 Jefferson Hills following Monongahela River south for 17 miles to I-70 near Speers opened April 2004, cost $644m
- I-70 south to US 40 near Brownsville paralleling Mon River on its west bank for 6 miles near the small town of California was the first stretch opened back in 1990 built by PennDOT
- US40 south then heading east across the Monongahela River going south of Brownsville and back to US40 a 6 mile section called Phase 2 of Uniontown to Brownsville opened today
- from US40 south of Brownsville paralleling US40 southeast to PA51 north of Unionville a 9 mile section opened in October 2008 (first part of the $880m 15 miles Brownsville-Uniontown)
- from PA51 Unionville makes use of a pre-existing 2x2 expressway US119 for 8 miles bypassing Unionville to its west to Fairchance
- from Fairchance 10 miles south to the WV border, $160m most opened March 2000
- 4 mile stretch in West Virginia from PA-WV line to interchange on I-68 opened July 2011
Although the MFE comes within 11 miles of downtown Pittsburgh as the crow flies humans in cars have to travel more circuitously. Plans for this most ambitious highway project have always been for the Monfayette Expressway as now built to Jefferson Hills to feed into a Y-shaped 24 miles of expressway called MFE/PA51 - I-376. Approved since December 2004 this PA51 to I-376 section within Pittsburgh has been costed at as much as $3.8b.
It has long been stalled for lack of financial viability or sufficient subsidies.
A 31 mile Southern (really southwestern) Beltway is planned from the MFE/PA43 at Finleyville 12 miles northwest to I-79, then another 13 miles to from I-79 to US22.
These two segments are long through environmental review are costed at $1.4b and need need funding too. A final 6 miles from US22 north to PA60 at the entry to Pittsburgh International Airport opened in October 2006.
Chairman Libermann is quoted today in an official release: "As we celebrate this major milestone in the history of the state and the Turnpike Commission it is important to recognize those in the general assembly who voted to generate needed funds to finance these projects. But our job is not done, and I look forward to working with the other members of the Turnpike Commission to complete the Mon/Fayette Expressway in its entirety.”
map and description:
Traffic on all the opened sections is less than 10,000 vehicles/day and at the southern end less than 5,000. These numbers are a small fraction of forecast for the completed expressway. At the southern end they have been increasing strongly but from tiny start numbers, making most of the expressway difficult to justify as a self-financing highway.
The Monfayette Expressway's problems have long been:
- it has been advanced to stimulate economic development in a depressed valley rather than to cater to existing traffic
- much of the terrain is rugged enough to make construction costs high
- it parallels untolled I-79 10 to 12 miles to the west as well as having close-by 2-lane rural arterials, some with bypasses of small towns
- the Pittsburgh area as a whole and western PA have stagnant population unlike the more prosperous Philadelphia area and eastern PA
The project's biggest problem may be that it is part of the larger Turnpike Commission with a 'decrease in net assets' reported last financial year at $523m after paying $450m in what are known as Fumo Payments to the state DOT. These Fumo payments are named after the jailed Senator Vincent Fumo's Act 44, and have created a situation the state auditor general described in February as "unsustainable" and liable to "lead to (financial) crisis like Harrisburg or Greece."