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Mon Fayette Expressway: Hazelwood's Hopes: Raised or Razed?

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At a community meeting on Nov. 1, Hazelwood residents anxiously perused a map showing a gash running the length of their neighborhood that would be 25 feet deep and approximately 100 feet wide.

 

Into this hollow would go the Turnpike Commission's long-sought Mon-Fayette Expressway -- a toll road that will finish its last section, from Brownsville to Pittsburgh, if funding permits.

 

Putting the road into this man-made gully is actually considered a major concession to Hazelwood. In neighboring Braddock, the Commission has proposed putting the Mon-Fayette on a 25-foot high mound of dirt.

 

Another dubious triumph for Hazelwood is the Turnpike's granting of up to three 600-foot-long concrete platforms or "lids" -- which could be covered with soil and landscaped -- that would span the sunken highway.

 

There has been one true victory so far: A sprawling interchange at the Glenwood Bridge has been made more compact, to take over less of the wooded hillside.

 

Still, many residents don't seem to feel they're getting the Oprah treatment.

 

When resident Sam Strati worried that Second Avenue - Hazelwood's main drag - wouldn't be left with enough room to allow trucks to load behind businesses, he was told that the alignment had been long set and couldn't be changed now. Turnpike consultant Eric Veydt asked if Strati had participated in earlier meetings with the Commission.

 

"I told them then," Strati responded. "We talk, but they don't listen! They just shake their heads."

 

Residents also worry about the road's indirect effects. Although perhaps better than a road elevated on stilts or crowning a mound of dirt, the depressed highway, residents worried, would depress their community, too, by burdening them with noise, air pollution and blight from abandoned-but-not-bought-out houses left abutting the highway.

 

Resident Gerald Gardner argued that, while the "lids" might help people get across the road, they won't reduce the air and noise pollution. After all, much of the Hazelwood section won't be covered.

 

As Gardner pointed on the map to a dozen or more houses close to the Mon-Fayette -- but not directly in its path -- he demanded: "Explain that to me, why will these people be subjected to noise above the legal limit?"

 

"They won't be," Veydt said.

 

And yet, Gardner countered, Mon-Fayette traffic will likely exceed federal noise regulations, requiring the Turnpike to reduce the noise, probably by constructing high sound-blocking walls along the concrete crevasse. "You don't need to know anything about sound to see that these houses are too close to the highway," said Gardner. "My personal suggestion is to buy these properties so these people can be satisfied."

 

Veydt said he would relay Gardner's comments, but that he had no power to grant such a buy-out. As other residents rallied around Gardner's suggestion, lifetime Hazelwood resident Kristina DiPietro added, "If the Turnpike won't purchase them, maybe the Turnpike Commission members can buy them themselves!"

 

Mon-Fayette backers have often dismissed concerns about nearby houses by saying they're run-down anyway, she added after the meeting. But that still leaves the structures - made even less desirable by being next to a highway - in the community's care, to board up or demolish. "Blight tends to work in a capillary fashion," DiPietro said, spreading outward from the neglected houses near the road to other parts of the neighborhood. She also worried that maintaining the landscaping on the "lids" might be the responsibility of Hazelwood volunteers or the financially strapped City of Pittsburgh. Added DiPietro, "For a community that's just trying to survive, that's a burden."

 

As they peered at the map, some residents glimpsed an annotation that seemed a little too representative of the Turnpike's plans for Hazelwood: A block or two of buildings had been circled and labeled: "To be raised." Someone had crossed out the mistake: "To be razed," read the correction.

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