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Braddock Kisses Off Highway

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Anti-Mon Fayette Expressway sentiment got its moment in neon colors on July 21, when the glass-block corner windows of a former furniture store in Braddock read "NO $," and then "NO MFX," projected in green as part of the town's "Kiss the Mon-Fayette Goodbye" party.

 

"We don't want this road," Heather Sage, director of outreach for environmentally focused PennFuture, shouted through a bullhorn to a crowd of about 50. "We want public transportation. We want the potholes fixed."

 

The expressway, a proposed toll road that's been imagined for more than 40 years as a link between Pittsburgh, the Mon Valley and places south, would cut a wide swath through already-depressed Braddock. So far, only two sections of the highway have been completed: a 17-mile stretch from Interstate 70 to state Route 51 in Allegheny County, and an 8-mile stretch in Fayette County that will eventually end in West Virginia.

 

Right-of-way purchasing for the remaining stretch, which will pass through Braddock, Hazelwood and other former steel towns, could begin as soon as mid-2007, says Joe Agnello, spokesperson for the Western Regional office of the state Turnpike Commission. The road itself is in the final design stages and money is committed to take it "to the brink of construction," he says.

 

The Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, released a report on May 23 saying that the cost of the expressway has jumped to $5.4 billion, and its affordability is seriously in doubt. On May 24, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted Turnpike Commission head Joe Brimmeier as saying that he agrees with "99.9 percent of the report."

 

Friday night's party was celebratory; The Urban Land Institute report was held up as evidence that the expressway is far from reality. The party, sponsored by the League of Young Voters, the Hazelwood Initiative and several environmental groups, began in Braddock Mayor John Fetterman's front yard with a potluck meal. Sage and Fetterman announced an initiative to get signatures and pledges from county officials to support a moratorium on the buying of properties potentially in the expressway's path. If the money isn't there to build the road, Sage says ... and it isn't yet, opponents emphasize ... then buying up properties now is wrong. At a transportation forum in Highland Park on July 13, County Executive Dan Onorato agreed to support such a moratorium.

 

"We need closure for the Mon-Fayette Expressway here in Braddock so the community can move forward," said Fetterman. "Nobody does anything because they figure the bulldozer's just going to come. It's a development millstone around our neck."

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