Biggest Turnpike Expansion in Five Decades Takes $2.6B Toll

📅   Wed August 02, 2000 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed

It’s the biggest expansion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike System since the l950s, during which the Turnpike’s northeastern, eastern and western extensions were constructed.

When the massive Mon-Fayette Expressway is completed and opens as SR-43 it will extend north from I-68 near Morgantown, WV, through the Uniontown and Brownsville areas and the Monongahela River Valley to I-376 near Pittsburgh, PA.

“The Mon-Fayette Expressway is actually composed of four separate, localized projects that would interconnect to form a continuous, 65-mi. expressway system between Pittsburgh and Morgantown,” noted Joe Agnello, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) spokesman. “The projects have their own independent utility and logical termini but would also function as a cohesive whole for regional benefit.”

According to the PTC, the Expressway will not only provide better travel options for vehicles currently using North-South highways such as U.S. 40 and SRs 5l, 88 and 857 but is also intended to encourage redevelopment projects in Mon River towns, many of which are currently economically depressed due to the decay of their traditional steel and coal industries. The Southern Beltway, approximately 30-mi. (48 km) long, will allow east-west access between the expressway and Pittsburgh’s airport on SR-60. Once completed, the two projects will provide approximately l00 mi. (160 km) of new highway in Allegheny, Fayette and Washington counties, south and west of Pittsburgh.

The price tag? According to PTC officials, $595 million for the 17-mi. (27 km) Mon-Fayette Expressway project from I-70 north to SR-51 alone. They estimate that the total cost of the Southern Beltway, comprising three projects, will be approximately $850 million, while for all four MFE projects combined (excluding West Virginia’s construction costs) it is expected to be about $2.6 billion. It’s important to note that these estimated amounts include the cost of all work connected with the projects, including environmental studies, preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocations and the like.


Federal funding received or committed for the Expressway project to date totals about $54 million. This figure includes approximately $24 million from l99l’s Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and $25 million from l998’s Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-2l). At this point, an additional $5 million has been awarded through TEA-2l’s National Corridor Planning and Development Program. The expressway was awarded these additional monies because TEA-2l designated both it and the associated although independent Southern Beltway project as “high priority corridors,” allowing them to compete annually for discretionary grants.

In addition, “two streams of state funding have been established to help the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission develop the Expressway and Beltway systems,” Agnello said.

“The PTC gets 14 percent of revenue generated annually – approximately $40 million – from the Pennsylvania Oil Company Franchise Tax. That’s 13.9 cents on each gallon of gasoline sold, so we get 14 percent of that 13.9 cents. We also receive $28 million per year from the Pennsylvania Motor License Fund from vehicle registration revenues.”

Construction in


Activities at this time are predominantly in Washington County, where Pittsburgh,PA-based Dick Corporation is currently serving as general contractor for two sections.

Section 52G

Work on $49-million Section 52G began in July l999 and will be completed in November 200l. Section 52G is l.7-mi. (2.7 km) long and extends north from the Ringgold High School area to Union Township, Washington County.

“Besides acting as general contractor,” said Jeff Sciullo, project director of Dick Corporation’s Heavy Highway Group, “the company has carried out concrete and steel work and on Section 52G we also did earthwork.”

With approximately 85 employees currently on site, Dick Corporation is using a wide range of equipment. Section 52G work involves company-owned Manitowoc 4000 and 4l00 cranes to form and pour bridge piers and perform steel erection.

Dick Corporation is utilizing rented Caterpillar 345, 350 and 375 excavators, a Caterpillar 990 loader and six Payhauler end dumps. Company-owned equipment at work includes a Caterpillar 225 excavator, six Caterpillar 631 Scrapers, D-6H, D-8R and D-9 Caterpillar dozers, a Grove hydraulic RT 528C crane and a Caterpillar 8l5 compactor.

The massive scale of the Expressway project is indicated by the amount of earth moved thus far by Dick Corporation alone – approximately 2 million cu. yds. (152 million cu m) over the past six months, noted Sciullo.

“Dual bridges will be constructed on this stretch,” he added, “and when completed they will be the highest on the Pennsylvania Turnpike System.”

The steel girder bridges will stand 252-ft. (76 m) high as they traverse Mingo Creek and Route 88. Their span includes a portion that will cross over a still active railroad trestle belonging to the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad at a height of some 50 ft. (15 m). These bridges will also claim third longest place on the Turnpike system, at approximately 2,500 ft. (758 m).

Section 52M

Section 52M, an $l8-million contract begun in December l998 with a completion date of August 2000, is approximately 2.3-mi (3.7 km) long and involves improvements to a 2.3-mi. (3.7 km) stretch of SR-5l where it joins the Expressway in Allegheny County. “Route 51 has been widened by 14 feet to create a center lane for left turns,” noted Agnello, “and until the Expressway is continued up to I-376 in Pittsburgh and Monroeville, the interchange at Route 5l in Jefferson Hills will serve as its northern terminus.”

Saxonburg, PA-based Brayman Construction Corporation was engaged by Dick Corporation to work on this section. Brayman’s marketing manager George Hrunka said that, “for Section 52M, we drilled over 130 caissons, which serve as the ’backbone’ for a series of soldier pile retaining walls along SR-5l. On 52M, Brayman used four different drill rigs a Mait HR l60 drill rig, a Mait HR l30 rig and Hughes Williams LDH 40T and 60T rigs — as well as a Grove 22-ton RT crane.

“We also completed the foundation system for Dick Corporation in Section 52G, having drilled 126, 54-in. diameter caissons, ranging from 30 ft. to 70 ft. in depth,” he added, “to serve as the foundation for the 14 bridge piers.”

The company also used a down-the-hole camera to inspect each of the caissons. Hrunka noted that crews ran two Italian-manufactured Mait crawler mounted hydraulic drill rigs concurrently, thus saving time on job completion. Other equipment they also utilized on this section included a Schwing 36 meter concrete pump truck and a Lima 700T crane.

Brayman has recently begun construction on the $37 million, Section 52F2 for general contractor Mashuda Construction Corporation. “Our contract includes the construction of a two-span continuous composite steel plate girder bridge which will become the Maple Creek Mine access road and carry traffic over the Mon Fayette Expressway,” said Hrunka, “and we also will construct dual single span composite multi-girder bridges, that will take the Mon Fayette over SR-l36, and two cast-in-place box culverts.

“Among the equipment we’ll be using will be two Lima 700T cranes, a Mitsubishi MS-300 excavator, a Grove RT 740 picker, as well as a DK-40 track mounted rig and a Williams LDH 40 drill rig,” he said.

Brayman Construction’s first job on the Expressway project was on section 52E for general contractor Mosites Construction Corporation. “For section 52E, our company value engineered the original pre-drilled and driven H-pile design by substituting roughly 1,000 drilled and grouted minipiles,” Hrunka said. “In doing so, we were able to reduce the overall number of piles by 33 percent, subsequently offering a cost savings of over $1 million to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Equipment utilized for that job included a Lima 700T Crane, Hutte 505 drill rig and a Fiat Allis loader.”

Construction in West Virginia

West Virginia is the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s partner for the Expressway’s 12-mi. (19.2 km) Mason-Dixon Link between Uniontown, PA, and Morgantown, W.VA. The 8-mi. (13 km) long Pennsylvania side of the Link opened on March 1 this year.

According to press reports, the remaining 4 mi. (6.4 km) on the West Virginia side – the only part of the expressway that will be built by that state – is expected to be completed in three to five years at a cost of about $l00 million.