All roads lead to Southern Beltway completion

Tim Schooley
Pittsburgh Business Times

After decades in the making and despite a protracted budget stalemate in Harrisburg, a major new road is poised to actually become a reality in western Pennsylvania.

“For the first time in my career in this business, we have a sustainable and viable plan to complete all the sections of the Southern Beltway and the Mon-Fayette Expressway,” Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, told a recent breakfast gathering of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

Its funding stream a result of the passage of Act 89 — the 2013 legislation expected to generate $2.3 billion over five years by raising the wholesale price of gasoline — Compton said the Southern Beltway, a 13-mile stretch that extends the Findlay Connector from Route 22 near Pittsburgh International Airport to Interstate 79 near Bridgeville, will begin construction this year and is expected to be completed by 2019 at a fully funded cost of $666 million.

With a stretch to connect the Southern Beltway from I-79 down to Finleyville expected to be the last phase, Compton also detailed a new approach to extend the Mon-Fayette in two stages up to the Mon Valley and then north to Route 22 in Monroeville, canceling a controversial leg into the city through Hazelwood and creating a new connection at Bates Street in Oakland.

After decades of planning and discussion, the project has major development implications for communities in the road’s path along the southern edge of the region.

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who has long criticized the Mon-Fayette plan, said he is far more amenable to the proposed changes, which avoid Braddock.

Don Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, which operates business parks in the Mon Valley and also manages the redevelopment of the 178-acre Almono site in Hazelwood — through which the Mon-Fayette was proposed to extend — expressed optimism for the reconstituted Mon-Fayette plan after opposing the leg into the city.

“This is really great news for McKeesport and Duquesne and Keystone Commons,” said Smith of the RIDC properties poised to benefit most from the new plan. “Access via road has been a significant hurdle to getting these sites reused.”

While the new Mon-Fayette route will have to undergo an environmental review process and will take years to complete, Smith expects it will help the RIDC and other developers to better invest and market their properties knowing better road access is on the way.

Jim Scalo, principal of Green Tree-based Burns & Scalo Real Estate Services, expects the 13-mile extension from Pittsburgh International Airport to unlock development prospects in South Fayette and Southpointe, both areas where his company owns properties.

“I don’t think Southpointe needs it but it’s going to help it,” he said.

Gregg Broujos, managing director of the Pittsburgh office of Colliers International, expects the new drive time from Southpointe to the airport that will be created by the extension will help bolster development in the area.

“Any time you can tout that something is under 10 minutes from the airport, it’s a great sell,” Broujos said. “So opening up that whole lower 79 Corridor without having to go up to 376 is just a game changer.”