PITTSBURGH - The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission could pave the 360-mile toll road twice in both directions with the amount of money spent on a two local construction projects.
So, Channel 11 traffic anchor Trisha Pittman asked officials if the investment will be worth it.
Carl DeFebo, turnpike director of public relations, said the beltway and the expressway are about convenience, not profit.
"One of the things you have to keep in mind," DeFebo said, "is these roadways were built for a purpose to increase mobility in these regions."
The Southern Beltway connects I-376 near Pittsburgh International Airport to Route 22 and I-79 south of Bridgeville. The first part of that project, the Findlay Connector, was completed in 2006 for $238 million. Construction of the remaining 13 miles of the Southern Beltway is expected to cost $710 million.
Once the Southern Beltway project is completed in 2022, the highway is expected to generate $6.7 million annually, according to the Turnpike Commission's 2018 revenue study. Last year, the road accounted for just .1 percent of the turnpike's revenue.
"If they're not being used, then [the turnpike] don't need to waste the money," Cilenti said. These projects get funding from the state legislature as well as Act 89, also known as the Pennsylvania gas tax, which is the highest in the nation.
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"They don't necessarily increase year-to-year as far as traffic gets," DeFebo said, "where the mainline turnpike increases 1.5 percent to 2 percent a year."
The Mon/Fayette Expressway is the more expensive of the two projects. So far, the Turnpike Commission has spent $1.7 billion connecting I-68 in West Virginia to Route 51 in Jefferson Hills. The next phase of the project will link Route 51 to Route 837 in Duquesne for an estimated $900 million.
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Drivers are left wondering if that money could have been put to better use on the mainline turnpike.
"I think that would make more sense," driver Paula Jablonowski said. "I mean, I've never traveled it."
But the Turnpike Commission disagrees. DeFebo said the new highway systems have simplified travel for southwestern Pennsylvania drivers.
"Overall, it's made life easier for the people in certain suburban areas of Greater Pittsburgh," DeFebo said. "It has made life easier and has brought positive things to some of the communities."
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