Corridor panelists detail the potential to come from the new Southern Beltway

Tim Schooley
Pittsburgh Business Times

As she and her community prepare for the potential of the new Southern Beltway that opened into South Fayette Township last October, Gwen Rodi introduced what you might think of as a municipal welcome mat for future business development along the new corridor.

Rodi, the president of the board of commissioners for South Fayette Township, introduced a full lunchtime banquet room in the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe to the new "Southern Beltway District" in the works.

She and her colleagues in the township’s government are working to take the largely undeveloped land now zoned for residential use along the corridor and establish a new comprehensive plan for a so-called Southern Beltway District, to broaden the commercial opportunities from the new highway.

It’s a new zoning for which she described as a real need for South Fayette, a southwestern Allegheny County community that “had a huge housing boom but not commercial development.” Recalling where her community stood nearly 10 years ago before the reality of the Southern Beltway getting built came to fruition, she remembered how, “we had 79 right at our front door.”

“We’re really trying to draw them to the area,” she said of South Fayette’s efforts to leverage the opening of the Southern Beltway last October to attract new commercial enterprises to her community, whether it's industrial users, retail or all of the above.

Rodi’s signaling of a new Southern Beltway District for South Fayette is just one new proposal among many expected from the new highway. The blank slate opportunity of developing the land along the Southern Beltway was the subject of a Corridors of Opportunity lunch event by the Pittsburgh Business Times held at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe.

In the first in-person Corridors of Opportunity event since before

the Covid-19 pandemic, Rodi was joined in the discussion by Brian

Temple, president of Imperial Land Corporation, which has major

land holdings along the new road; Jeff Kotula, president of the

Washington County Chamber of Commerce, who expects his

communities are also poised to benefit from the new road; and

Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission,

which built the new road.

Costing more than $700 million to build, and a project that had to deal with uncapped natural gas wells, nine rain events of more than three inches, as well as the need to move 60,000 tons of something called "pickle liquor sludge," a kind of industrial waste from steel making, the Southern Beltway's time is now.

The road is open and its use is growing, with Compton putting current usage of the 13-mile span at up to 7,500 vehicles per day, expecting it to reach 10,000. Of course, that's before the land along the new highway is developed, something that Rodi, Temple and many others are plotting to make happen.

Compton pointed out just how rare an occasion it is to be able to open a new highway of this scale anywhere in the country right now as well as how long it has taken to get it done, dating the new road's origins to the 1980s. "'Back to the Future' was the popular movie at the time," he said.

"I’d tell you what gas prices were, but you’d be depressed." Temple's company, which has already developed a major business park near the Findlay Connector portion of the beltway that

opened more than ten years ago now, said he already has a deal in place to sell a site at the new Fort Cherry Development District, a mixed-use site of around 900 acres owned by Imperial Land at Exit 11 of the new toll road.

He emphasized how it's not proximity to Pittsburgh International Airport that is driving such development activity in Findlay and will now drive activity along the Southern Beltway in what is Robinson Township in Washington County, but the transportation network. Temple said that Imperial Land did a deal in Findlay two years ago with a user motivated by the future prospect of being able to access a connected Southern Beltway.

Kotula expects the connected system to help open up more development opportunities in Washington County. "When the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission tells you they're going to build a road that ends at your front door, you fully support it," he said. "We see a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity."