Companies Sought to Finish Pittsburgh-Area Toll Roads

Fri August 29, 2008 - Northeast Edition
CEG




PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission hopes to meet in September with companies interested in a partnership to complete a network of toll roads connecting the Pittsburgh area with West Virginia.

The commission has already spent $1 billion building approximately 40 mi. of the projected 100-mi. network, but officials estimate that it will cost about $5 billion to complete the roads that state lawmakers tasked the commission with completing more than 20 years ago.

“Timely completion of these projects is important to the region’s economy and we believe private involvement could accelerate construction, particularly since there’s very limited funding available for new transportation projects at the state and federal levels,’’ turnpike commission chief executive Joe Brimmeier said.

The roads still to be built include the 24-mi. Mon-Fayette Expressway project in Allegheny County and two Southern Beltway projects that would connect to an existing portion of the expressway in Washington County.

Once completed, the 100-mi. network of limited access toll roads will connect Pittsburgh to Morgantown, W.Va., and include a spur to Pittsburgh International Airport about 10 mi. west of the city and another to Monroeville and the city’s eastern suburbs. The main Pennsylvania Turnpike also runs through Monroeville, 15 mi. east of Pittsburgh.

The turnpike commission will hold the meeting Sept. 17 in Harrisburg.

Details of how the turnpike commission will partner with a private company or companies are not clear. The September meeting is the first concrete step the commission has taken since announcing in March that it was studying a public-private partnership.

At the time, the commission indicated that it hoped to find companies willing to finance, design, build, operate or maintain the remaining sections of expressway.

Building the roads has been slow going because the turnpike commission has obtained funding piecemeal and conceded that it doesn’t have the money to finish the job. Critics have said the roads will harm the environment and watershed patterns and do nothing to spur economic growth in the depressed former mill towns that dot Pittsburgh’s river valleys.

Work began on the projects in the 1970s, and in 1985 the Legislature gave the turnpike commission the responsibility of completing the roads.

In 2006, turnpike officials said they had talked with the Macquarie Group of Australia about finishing the highways in return for rights to collect toll money, but no official proposals were made.