Meeting yesterday’s transportation needs

January 16, 2014

Finally, after more than half a century of proposals, setbacks and false starts, work is about to begin on another key component of the Southern Beltway: the section from Interstate 79 in Cecil Township at the county line to Route 22 in northern Washington County. This will make driving to Pittsburgh International Airport quicker and easier for residents here and for those who work at and around Southpointe.

State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who is ecstatic about the project, said it will open 4,000 acres to development in Cecil and Robinson townships. And Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi, who is also a member of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, called the new section “a win-win for everybody.”

We don’t see it quite that way.

The new, 12-mile toll road will definitely have some benefits.

It should alleviate traffic congestion on the Parkway West, for one thing. The road could also pump new life into towns like McDonald.

But it’s not a “win” for everybody.

People who lost their property because it was in the way of the road may have been fairly compensated, but it is difficult to call them winners, as well as the people who lived next to them and will have to live next to the highway.

And because this section of the beltway will cost more than $55 million per mile to build, taxpayers can’t really say they won, either.

Even after this section is completed an estimated four years from now, important links in the Southern Beltway will still be missing: another 13-mile section between Interstate 79 to Route 43 at Gastonville, and the portion in Allegheny County between Route 51 and Route 22 east of Pittsburgh. These links are unfunded, and the proposed routes cut through increasingly populated areas. It’s possible they will never be built.

Talk about the beltway began in the 1950s and became a key part of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional Planning Commission’s regional transportation plan in the 1970s. We might have a completed beltway if work began then, when much of the land the road would have cut through was used for farming or not used at all. Back then, the concept of a beltway made perfect sense, and it still did in the 1990s, when, by the way, Pittsburgh’s airport was much busier than today. But will it still make sense in 2024? Or 2034? Will our transportation needs be different then?

In an editorial four years ago, we wrote: “Right now, just about everyone uses a car to get from one place to another, but will that be the case in future?”

What if our needs then are for mass transit, and we are stuck with enormously expensive highways that no one uses?

The Turnpike Commission is gambling that our transportation needs have not changed and will not change for several decades.

The railroads, having the same mind set, were laying new tracks in the early 1900s, when they figured that people were never going to stop traveling on trains.

We wonder if the plans for this link from Southpointe to the airport ever included a monorail down the middle of it.

We wonder if meeting tomorrow’s transportation needs isn’t a better idea than satisfying today’s.

Or yesterday’s.



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