Mon-Fayette Expressway might never run to Pittsburgh
Got it. But then PA turnpike ends up having to jack up tolls year after year to pay the debt. Who is the deciding body on when too much debt is enough? Or was the system set up so everyone can keep passing the buck (literally)?
Turnpike construction and capital investment is funded through bonds floated against tax revenue (Oil Company Franchise Tax, a nickel from the gas tax, one other thing I forget). Maintenance is theoretically funded by tolls. The reason why the Turnpike keeps jacking up tolls is completely unrelated to this, though — it’s to comply with Act 44 from back in 2008, in which the Turnpike Commission agreed to fund public transit with toll revenue. It’s still COMPLETELY unclear to me why they were allowed to do that, since in theory the feds are vehemently clear that tolls collected on interstate highways can only be used for the maintenance of those roads. But there you are.
The current clamor around repealing or modifying Act 44, in order to provide the Turnpike debt relief, is about the Turnpike wanting to improve its bond rating, and thereby to make the construction of the Mon-Fayette and Southern Beltway more affordable (though of course no matter what their rating these projects are outrageously expensive and totally not worth any expense).
What’s interesting is that for the first time the Turnpike has made the misstep of pitting the Mon-Fayette directly in conflict with public transit. In the past they’ve always managed to bind the two together, such that people who would otherwise be totally opposed to the MFX had to hold their nose and support the Mon-Fayette funding in order to secure reliable funding for public transit. Now there’s a choice between the two, and transit advocates are free to tell the Turnpike that no, you don’t get to walk away from your commitment in order to build these stupid roads that we don’t need.
It’s still COMPLETELY unclear to me why they were allowed to do that, since in theory the feds are vehemently clear that tolls collected on interstate highways can only be used for the maintenance of those roads.
I think the PA turnpike isn’t subject to the same rules as the rest of the Interstate highway system, since it was built before the act was passed, and grandfathered in.
@jonawebb the trade-off was tolling of I-80, not the Turnpike itself.
It’s currently illegal to toll existing highway capacity, as would’ve been done under Act 44 on I-80, but the Federal transpo bill at the time contained a pilot program that would’ve allowed this to happen. That pilot program is what the state applied for, and was rejected since the revenue collected would not have gone to the specific road being tolled.
Construction begins on $700 million Southern Beltway
That’s $54M per mile or $10K per foot.
To put it into perspective, it means that the annual cost of bike infrastructure in the city is about 10-20 feet of this monstrosity.
The last 6 miles, from I-79 to the Mon Valley Expressway, is still under design and is estimated to cost $800 million.
Speaking of cost per mile, some stats I’ve collected:
freeway costs $3 (rural) to $12 (urban) million per lane mile ($50 million in extreme cases, $360 million per lane mile for Boston’s Big Dig).
bike lane (5 feet wide) costs from $5,000 to $500,000 per mile, with average about $100,000.
asphalt trail (10 feet wide) costs $100,000 to $300,000 per mile.
crushed limestone trail (10 feet wide) costs $10,000 to $100,000 per mile.
So if Southern Beltway is 4 lanes, $54M per mile means $14M per lane mile. That matches the cost of a typical urban freeway. I wonder why the cost is so high in such a rural area.
How dare bikers use the road or make us build bike lanes. They don’t even pay for the road. :)
Wondering how much of southern belt’s cost was land acquisition?
Just got this notice. SPC will be taking comments on adding the “final” section of the Mon-Fayette Expressway to the TIP. This is probably the best place to direct energy right now, although the comment process is a total sham show.
Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) is seeking your input and will open a public comment period for Air Quality Conformity Determination and proposed amendments to Mapping the Future: The Southwestern PA Plan and the 2017-2020 Transportation Improvement Program (2017-2020 TIP).
This public comment period will begin Wednesday, February 8, 2017 and conclude Friday, March 10, 2017.
Mon-Fayette Expressway (MFE): The MFE from PA Route 51 to I-376 is the final piece to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s 74 mile MFE system that will allow continuous travel from West Virginia to I-376 (Parkway East) in Monroeville.
This segment is the fourth and final segment of the MFE projects. The 14 mile long, four-lane, limited access, tolled expressway will begin at the current terminus of the MFE at PA Route 51 in Jefferson Hills and run northeasterly, crossing the Monongahela River in the City of Duquesne, connecting to I-376 in Monroeville. The estimated project cost is $2.16 billion.
I-79 Widening: This project will widen I-79 Northbound from two to three lanes, beginning just north of the Southpointe Interchange in Cecil Township, Washington County to just north of the Safety Rest Areas near the Alpine Road overpass in South Fayette Township, Allegheny County. The project consists of approximately 3.01 miles of widening; approximately 1.85 miles are in Washington County and 1.16 miles are in Allegheny County. The estimated project cost is $23.1 million.
Additional information on the Air Quality Determination and the proposed amendments to the 2017-2020 TIP and Mapping the Future is available for public review online beginning February 8th, at http://www.spcregion.org, at the offices of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Allegheny County Department of Economic Development, Washington County
Planning Commission, and public libraries located in Allegheny and Washington Counties.
Two public meetings will be held to present the details and scope of the proposed amendments. At these meetings, interested parties will have the opportunity to review information on the project, and ask questions of representatives from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, PennDOT, SPC, and other project partners.
Thursday, February 23, 2017, at 4:00 p.m. / Peters Township Municipal Building/610 E. McMurray Road/McMurray, PA 15317
Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. / Monroeville Public Library/4000 Gateway Campus Boulevard/Monroeville, PA 15146
Comments on the proposed amendments and Air Quality Conformity Determination will be accepted by SPC representatives at these meetings. Written comments may also be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org , by mail to SPC Comments at Two
Chatham Center, Suite 500, 112 Washington Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15219 or by fax to (412) 391-9160.
All comments must be received by 4:00 p.m. on Friday, March 10, 2017.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by erok.
Does the yuge current budget deficit ($600m-ish) and the even worse one projected for next year ($1.5bn-ish) play into whether things get funded?
Are those public comments public record? Can we see how many of the surveys turned in during the last set of information sessions were in support of the project?
IIRC, the Mon-Fayette is part of the turnpike commission’s budget and doesn’t come from the state funds directly?
The commission’s charter is such that they are supposed to cease existing when they get out of debt, so they need to keep borrowing money to stay alive.
If they got out of debt and ceased to exist, who would run the turnpike and collect the tolls, do the maintenance, etc?
The turnpike would be owned by the public, which would be responsible for maintenance.
just wondering — do you have anything that backs up this assertion, or is it lore? I can’t find anything on a google search. It isn’t that I don’t believe you, but it just seems like a weird way to set up a commission. When I lived in Ohio, I don’t remember hearing anything similar for the Ohio Turnpike Commission.
By the way, I found this Wharton article on the unsustainability of the PA turnpike.
I couldn’t find any document about out-of-debt, out-of-existance but I did come across what was (to me) a fascinating discussion of the Turnpike Commission’s obligation to fund public transit
Check the 2017 Act44 PDF, on page11 of the 77-page PDF, the section titled: Act 44, Act 9 and PTC’s Expanded Mandate, and see the chart of pdf-page12 of 77.
About PTC’s commitment to debt, the following excerpts are from
The Pa. Turnpike’s tangled and corrupt history – explained: Brad Bumsted
“Girlfriends, brothers, husbands, sons-in-law and other close relations and associates were still being hired left and right into well-paying Turnpike jobs. Two patronage chiefs, one for each party, were still employed by the Turnpike.” …
As designed, the five-member commission running the state’s toll road and major east-west highway was an independent state agency. If the Turnpike Commission became part of PennDOT, the debt wouldn’t disappear. Taxpayers would be responsible for it. That’s a bitter pill for most lawmakers to swallow.
Staying in debt, oddly enough, assures the agency’s survival.
“The Turnpike itself remains in existence only so long as it remains in debt,” said a presentment by the 33rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. “When all bonds, notes or other obligations and the interest thereon have been paid . . . the Turnpike and the connecting road, tunnels, and bridges shall become a part of the system of State Highways and shall be maintained by the Department of Highways free of tolls; and thereupon, the Commission shall be dissolved,” the Grand Jury said quoting an incorporating document of the agency. “The Grand Jury finds this to be of particular note given the practices of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission regarding the expenditure of state dollars discovered during the course of this investigation.”
Perfect! It is totally counterintuitive that the only way something can stay alive is by keeping itself in debt. They’ve basically designed an agency that lives to build more and more roads.
I assume the legislature could change all this if they wish.
I got is from a biography of Robert Moses. An authority is set up to administer a state need, it is authorized to do that, and has its own independent funding. I’ll see if can find an online reference about Pennsylvania.
Paul nailed it. It was from a Brad Bumstead Penn live article. Which he got from the original articles of incorporation for the PTC.
Thanks to both of you.
The legislature may be able to change it, but not necessarily. The legislature can’t undo contracts; even the Federal government can’t do that (it’s in the Constitution). So if PTC issues contracts, and does it right, issuing new contracts as old ones expire, it can keep itself in existence indefinitely. It’s how Robert Moses kept himself in power in New York.
But, in fact, the legislature is not the enemy of PTC building things. They give them more stuff to build than they can keep up with, including the Mon-Fay. Building that highway, and others, is explicitly written into bills — even naming routing, etc.
It isn’t illegal to toll existing interstate. The feds’ objection to the Turnpike application to toll I-80 was that toll revenue was going to be supporting other transportation projects around the state, which is a no-no. Toll revenue on interstates must be used exclusively for the purpose of maintaining and paying off the debt on the road for which the tolls have been paid.
The Turnpike Commission differs from PennDOT in several important ways:
1. It only builds and maintains tolled limited-access highways.
2. Unlike PennDOT, it is empowered to borrow money to pay for its projects.
3. Unlike PennDOT, its projects are 100% political, not the product of any transportation planning process.
Related: While looking for something else, I found SB 39, in which Senator Hutchinson (R-Oil City/Butler) proposes to eliminate the Turnpike Commission and merge its functions into PennDOT and the Treasury…
This is his second try; the bill was SB1051 last time around, but only got two cosponsors and didn’t go anywhere: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2015&sind=0&body=S&type=B&bn=1051
- This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by buffalo buffalo. Reason: still don't quite understand when bare urls are automatically linked and when not
More pa turnpike spending. This time widening Allegheny valley exit on east.
There’s a public meeting about the Mon-Fayette Expressway extension to Monroeville today at 4pm, in Monroeville.
There was a bikepgh notice on this a few weeks ago:
Mike Boyd was also at the meeting. It was pretty low-key. It appears that they’ve identified money to widen lanes on I-79 and do the Mon-Fay connection to Monroeville based on funds from Districts 11 and 12. I don’t know the timeline but the plan is to add this to the TIP. There will be a vote coming up to do this.
The plan for the connection at Monroeville was interesting to me. I didn’t quite understand what was being proposed from previous info here and one of the PennDOT people said he would send me a link to some maps. I’ll share that if I get it. But basically, they will cross Turtle Creek east of Braddock (passing under one of the spans of the Westinghouse Bridge) and then run up through Turtle Creek. Riding home this evening, standing next to St. Colman Church in Turtle Creek, I could pretty much see what’s being planned. You can look south and see the span of the Westinghouse Bridge, where the road will come through, and then north up Thompson Run. The road will require moving stores at Penn Plaza there — they’re going to swap the parking lot and the stores. The road at that point will be on 90′ piers.
Following Thompson Run (and at ground level) north from there, they’ll basically erase the bucolic area next to the creek. There will be an interchange next to the Monroeville Mall connecting to Business 22. And it will connect to the Parkway a little north of there.
Also, BTW: removing the Pittsburgh connection from the project reduced the cost from $4 B to $2 B. Which seems like an optimistic number to me.
Jon: From the discussion in Aug. 2016 (e.g. http://www.bikepgh.org/message-board/topic/mon-fayette-expressway-might-never-run-to-pittsburgh/page/7/#post-330761) there were links to Turnpike Commission maps such as https://www.patpconstruction.com/monfaysb/pdf/MeetingBoards/MappingBoardKey_Overview.pdf but those links seem to be broken now.
When you’ve got a mere 2 billion dollars to do a project, it’s hard to find money for good outreach and communication, it seems.
PTC commissioner resigns and joins liquor control for pa. Also didn’t know he runs VISIT Monroeville, which must be excited about the MFE.
Quotes & a photo of Mike Boyd in this article on the Mon-Fay:
The Mon-Fayette Expressway extension from Large to Monroeville was discussed on “The Confluence”. A discussion with the author of that Pittsburgh City Paper article. Both the supervisors of Wilkins Township and the mayor of Turtle Creek are opposed to the MFE extension. Audio here; start at 44:39: http://wesa.fm/post/honoring-dr-thomas-starzl-medical-pioneer
As Mon-Fayette Expressway faces critical vote, Peduto, Fitzgerald voice concerns
The future of the $1.6 billion Mon-Fayette Expressway faces a crucial vote Monday, and two top local leaders say they aren’t convinced the project should move ahead… The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the 10-county planning agency, is expected to vote Monday on whether to include the toll road in its list of recommended projects for the region. If the commission votes not to recommend the highway or tables action, it could mean the end of the project.
If you all aren’t aware, Scott Bricker, BikePGH Executive Director is a voting commissioner.
I was at the last meeting on the Mon-Fay that was held in Monroeville. I also commute through the area. The other day I was able to survey the route from above Thompson Run (it is the valley next to Monroeville Mall). It really struck me, what a dinosaur this is. The highway has a connection directly to the mall designed in. Because that would make sense, to connect such a vibrant economic center to a modern highway (I am being sarcastic). The mall is a dying institution — just go by there on an evening, if you’re not afraid to after the reports of riots and shootings.
Further south, the Mon-Fay will completely bypass Turtle Creek, as it will be suspended above the town on 90′ piers. No economic benefit whatever, just the construction, and the draw of people away from the area.
What Turtle Creek, Wilmerding, etc. need are better connections to the west, through Braddock and on to Pittsburgh. It’s part of what we’re advocating for with the trail development, but, really, there needs to be some sort of transit option, such as extending the busway.
I’m sure Scott will vote “the right way” (and I did write the commission), BTW.
the proponents that were quoted in the article make me feel like they think this thing may die. I’m hoping i’m correct in that.
Also, there is time for public comment directly before the commissioners vote, with the commissioners in the room. Who knows how many of them actually read the public comment. there is no need to sign up, just show up at SPC office on Monday, March 20 4:30pm on the 4th Floor of Chatham Center
Tangential. Today on wesa there’s an interview with a Pittsburgh author, Jacob bachrach, who manages to diss the MFE in the interview. You can read the transcript and learn about a new book.
Back when I first moved to Pittsburgh there was a commuter train that ran from the city out to McKeesport. Along a rail line that is now (in part) the EFT. I remember it looking a bit sad. An old diesel engine, belching smoke, pulling some ratty-looking passenger cars (and not that many of them).
Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the money that’s apparently available for the MFE to restore this link using a (cheaper) light-rail system? With a spur up Turtle Creek to Monroeville? Second Ave currently has 4 lanes; seems like a lot. That would be a natural. And it would connect the “Almono” project to downtown. Probably as good or better a selling point for tenants as forcing a busway up to Oakland (and thrashing Junction Hollow).
And people might, you know, be able to stop over in Braddock for a bit of shopping, or even dinner, in between switching trains. At Superior Motors or at one of its numerous competitors sure to pop up. Help the local economy? Of course. Maybe it would even make Braddock a sensible location for a new business. Say one of those high-tech enterprise thingies. Probably fit into a lot less space that the Edgar Thomson. And, really, there’s tons of vacant lots available really cheap, if you get moving right now.
While I agree that shopping centers are no longer economically viable, Braddock Ave would work just right as a vital, walkable, shopping street integrated into a functionally meaningful context. Tony Buba understood it all along.
A separate thought: Maybe the MFE was actually about freight? (Though I’m not sure I ever heard that.) Aren’t there existing railways that make that connection? Why not just refurbish them? I bet there’s some scheme to do with hauling truck-trailers that could be figured out. I see those cars all the time along the south shore of the Mon.
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