In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Today we highlight Pennsylvania’s $1.7 billion Mon-Fayette Expressway plan, a highway plan that has outlived its reason for being.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the state Department of Transportation have been trying to build a highway from rural western Pennsylvania into downtown Pittsburgh through the Monongahela Valley since the 1960s.
First, it was billed as a way to support the region’s industrial boom; later, after the collapse of the steel industry, supporters of the road project argued it would bring economic revitalization to the area by connecting it to downtown Pittsburgh.
By 2002, the four-lane Mon-Fayette Expressway had reached from northern West Virginia to Jefferson Hills. The remaining segments, connecting Route 51 to I-376 in suburban Monroeville and, via a spur, downtown Pittsburgh, were under official consideration.
Plans to build a new toll road, criticized for its potential to damage communities and harm economic development opportunities, were resuscitated in 2015. It is being justified using traffic predictions for 2020 that were made more than a decade ago.
A project analysis by community members and experts determined that building the rest of the proposed route would harm the local communities and reduce – rather than increase – the likelihood of economic recovery in an area that was the epicenter of the steel boom and its subsequent collapse. The groups called instead for investment in transit, bicycle and pedestrian routes, and improving existing roads.