The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announces that the first leg of the Southern Beltway — a tolled expressway to bear the “PA Turnpike 576” designation — will open at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Known as the “Findlay Connector,” the new, 6-mile road will have four interchanges: PA Route 60/Airport, U.S. Route 30, Bald Knob/Burgettstown Road and U.S. Route 22.
Construction of the $225 million project — located 15 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh — began in November, 2003. The Findlay Connector stretches from PA Route 60 at the Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay Twp., Allegheny Co., to U.S. Route 22 in Robinson Twp., Washington Co.
All traffic will have to pass through one of six new toll plazas (but not more than one) each time they use the highway in one direction. At each of those fare-collection points, the standard, two-axle passenger-vehicle fare will be 50 cents. Commercial vehicles — trucks, tractor trailers, buses, etc. — will pay an additional 50 cents per axle for each axle over two. So, a three-axle vehicle will pay $1, a four-axle vehicle will pay $1.50, etc. The maximum commercial fare is $2.50 for six axles.
Toll plazas will be located at the connector’s on and off ramps. Westbound vehicles (those traveling towards the airport) will pay at the on ramps as they enter the highway. Eastbound vehicles (those traveling away from the airport towards Route 22) will pay at the off ramps as they exit the highway. There will be no “mainline” or barrier-type toll plaza at the connector’s airport tie-in.
All lanes will accept the E-ZPass electronic toll collection payment. Each toll plaza will have one “E-ZPass Only” and two “Cash or E-ZPass” lanes. New automated money machines in the “Cash or E-ZPass” lanes will accept up to $5 bills, make change and give receipts.
State and economic-development officials agree it will be a key artery that could pump more business into the region. “This is a relatively small but critical piece of the infrastructure puzzle that will better equip southwestern Pennsylvania to compete for private investment,” said Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier. “It will bring a much-needed, modern highway link to the Route 60 Expressway and our world-class Pittsburgh International Airport.”
PA Turnpike 576 will have an east-west designation — even though the highway does run north to south on the map. The reason: Most of the Southern Beltway’s 26 miles that are not yet constructed will have an actual east-to-west alignment. The interchanges will be named and numbered as follows (from west to east): Exit 1 (Route 60) is called “Beaver/Airport/Pittsburgh”; Exit 2 (Route 30) is called “Imperial/Clinton”; Exit 4 (Bald Knob/Burgettstown Road) is called “Bavington/Santiago”; and Exit 6 (Route 22) is called “Pittsburgh/Weirton.”
As an independent project with stand-alone utility, the Findlay Connector will reduce travel times to the airport corridor for trips originating in northern Washington County and in the Weirton, W.Va./Steubenville, Ohio area. This will ease congestion and enhance safety on existing roadways. As a component of the proposed 32-mile Southern Beltway, it would serve the Southpointe area, the mid-Monongahela River Valley and even Monroeville and Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs as a new alternative route to the airport and the Route 60 corridor extending north to Interstate 80 between Sharon and Mercer.
The road could shave 10 to 15 minutes off of a trip for some commuters.
“Improved access and mobility will bring new opportunities for jobs and personal growth to a higher percentage of the region’s population,” Brimmeier said. “Ours and other infrastructure projects are making the Findlay Connector corridor as primed for development as any location in Allegheny County, and we are excited to open this roadway and help unleash that potential.”
An estimated 12,000 trips per day will be made on the connector in its first year — a figure that should jump to 36,000 trips per day by 2025.
The Findlay Connector is one of three independent projects that would interconnect to form the proposed Southern Beltway system. The beltway’s next stage connects Route 22 to Interstate 79. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed Route-22-to-Interstate-79 project is now undergoing public review. The FEIS identifies the “B-2” alternative (13.3 miles long) as the preferred alternative. FEIS approval and issuance of a record of decision by the Federal Highway Administration would allow the Turnpike to proceed with final design and right-of-way acquisition. Following necessary approvals, the Turnpike could start final design of the project by the spring of 2007. The third and final portion of the beltway connects Interstate 79 to the Mon-Fayette Expressway. An alignment for the proposed 12-mile stretch has not yet been finalized.
Construction of the Findlay Connector involved 21 new bridges, more than 11.3 million cubic yards of excavation (moving enough earth to fill PNC Park 26 times), 313,300 square yards of new concrete pavement and 101,400 feet of new drainage pipe. Roadway construction was completed by Dick Corp. and Mashuda Corp.