The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have reached an agreement that will allow both agencies to move forward with plans for neighboring projects in the area where Interstate 79 crosses the border between Allegheny and Washington counties.
Turnpike officials are now confident the transportation project development process for the 13-miles of the Southern Beltway between U.S. Route 22 and I-79 can proceed on schedule.
“We will be circulating the required Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project this summer and we are hopeful that a Record of Decision from the Federal Highway Administration, which will allow for final design to start on the selected alternative, will be received by mid-2005,” said David E. Zazworsky, who heads the project's environmental clearance team as a Special Assistant to the Turnpike Commissioners.
In March 2003 the VA completed its acquisition of 275 acres on the former Morgan Farms property in Cecil Township just south of the Allegheny-Washington County line to develop a new regional National Cemetery. While the VA will gradually expand the cemetery to full capacity over an extended time frame, it plans to begin burials there in late 2004.
VA officials had expressed concerns that the Turnpike Commission's proposed location of the Southern Beltway's interchange with I-79 would adversely impact the new cemetery and reduce the amount of land available for burials.
Representatives of the VA and the Turnpike Commission met several times in recent months to resolve potential conflicts.
“We are satisfied with the commitments the Turnpike Commission has made to minimize impacts to our new National Cemetery,” said Robert B. Holbrook, Director of the Office of Construction Management for the VA's National Cemetery Administration. “We look forward to continued collaboration through the final design and construction of both projects.”
During construction of the Southern Beltway interchange with I-79, the Turnpike Commission has pledged to avoid the “fast-tracked” area of the cemetery property the VA will develop first and to minimize visual impacts to the cemetery and any disruptions to cemetery access.
To ensure that the Turnpike Commission has sufficient area to build the interchange, the VA will convey to the Turnpike Commission some portions of its property on both sides of I-79. The VA also will provide temporary easements to facilitate construction. In return, the Turnpike Commission will provide the VA with replacement land for future expansion of the portion of the cemetery on the east side of I-79.
“This is a win-win for both parties,” said Tony Mento, a transportation engineer at the Federal Highway Administration's Pennsylvania Division Office in Harrisburg, who participated in the talks. “Both of these projects are important to southwestern Pennsylvania and can now proceed without costly delays.”
Note: additional media contacts are Robert Holbrook for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (202-565-4804) and Tony Mento for the Federal Highway Administration (717-221-3412).