Pennsylvania Route 576
Pennsylvania Route 576 (PA Turnpike 576), the Southern Beltway, is a partially completed tolled freeway in the southern and western suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Upon completion it will serve as a southern beltway around the metro Pittsburgh area from the Pittsburgh International Airport to the historic Steel Valley of the Monongahela River.
|Pittsburgh Southern Beltway|
Completed section highlighted in red
Section under construction highlighted in green
Proposed section highlighted in blue
|Maintained by PTC|
|Length||5.5 mi (8.9 km)|
|Existed||October 11, 2006–present|
|West end||I-376 in Findlay Township|
|US 30 in Findlay Township|
|US 22 in Robinson Township|
The first section of the highway from Interstate 376 (PA 60 at the time) near Pittsburgh International Airport to U.S. Route 22 opened on October 11, 2006 at 3 p.m. Construction on a segment of the beltway that will link US 22 to I-79 near the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies is currently underway and planned for a 2021 opening, while the final segment from I-79 to PA Turnpike 43 is pending. Federal approval has been given for both segments. Although PA Turnpike 576 runs north–south between I-376 and US 22, the route is signed as east–west to reflect the routing that the completed beltway will take; PA Turnpike 576 will begin to have a more general east–west routing when the second leg to I-79 opens in 2021.
Like the Mon–Fayette Expressway, the Southern Beltway will have no direct connection to the Pennsylvania Turnpike's mainline despite being built and maintained by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC). (Both the tolled section of Interstate 376 and PA Turnpike 66 as well as the Northeast Extension have direct connections to the Turnpike's mainline.) Both highways, however, will have indirect connections with the Turnpike's mainline via I-376.
PA Turnpike 576 begins at an interchange with I-376 and the entrance to Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay Township, Allegheny County. From here, the route heads southwest as a four-lane freeway. The road heads through wooded areas, where it curves south and comes to an interchange with US 30. Past this interchange, PA Turnpike 576 continues through more rural areas and reaches the Westport Road interchange. Following this, the freeway crosses into Robinson Township in Washington County and heads south to reach its current eastern terminus at an incomplete three-level diamond interchange with US 22. PA Turnpike 576 is signed as an east-west route even though it currently runs southwest-northeast, with the eastbound direction heading southwest and the westbound direction heading northeast.
PA Turnpike 576 uses all-electronic tolling, with tolls payable by toll-by-plate (which uses automatic license plate recognition to take a photo of the vehicle's license plate and mail a bill to the vehicle owner) or E-ZPass. A toll gantry is located along the mainline between exits 2 and 4. As of 2019, the toll costs $1.60 using toll-by-plate and $1.10 using E-ZPass.
The Findlay Connector section of PA Turnpike 576 originally had ramp toll plazas located at the eastbound exit and westbound entrances of its three interchanges (excluding the western terminus at I-376). All toll plazas were equipped with an electronic fare collection system (E-ZPass) and for cash customers, a dual-height, automated machine for toll collection.
On June 3, 2018, the turnpike commission implemented all-electronic tolling along the Findlay Connector section of PA Turnpike 576. The ramp tolls were removed and all-electronic tolls were collected from a toll gantry along the mainline.
While many metropolitan areas in the U.S. comparable to the size of Pittsburgh such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville have an Interstate beltway that serve both locals and long distance travelers as a way to ease traffic congestion, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area does not have a true beltway. With the exception of the rainbow colored Pittsburgh Belt System, most major traffic roadways either travel into the city (such as I-279 and I-376) or bypass it just outside the city limits (moving north/south I-79 and the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike/I-76), with I-70 to the south and I-80 to the north being a somewhat greater distance from the city. While it could be argued that Pittsburgh does have somewhat of an existing beltway with I-79 from Cranberry Township to Washington, I-70 from Washington to New Stanton, and the Turnpike from New Stanton to Cranberry, the distance of I-70 from the city in comparison to the other two highways make it a little farther out from the typical beltway. Additionally, I-70 in between Washington and New Stanton, as well as the Turnpike, are not up to modern Interstate Highway standards. Although Pittsburgh does have the pre-Interstate Allegheny County belt system, these are mostly on surface streets and are rarely promoted by the city and Allegheny County.
The Southern Beltway, which would bring a southern road closer to the city core and serve as a partial beltway, was first conceived in the 1980s when the Mon–Fayette Expressway received new life with Act 61 legislation, which transferred control of that project from PennDOT to the PTC. Additionally, the relocation and expansion of Pittsburgh International Airport helped spur the project. Less than a year before the airport relocated to its new site, the PTC decided to move forward with the Southern Beltway project in 1991.
Ground on the first leg of the Southern Beltway, the Findlay Connector, was broken on November 12, 2003, connecting what was then PA 60 to US 22. The Connector was delayed by the discovery of state endangered short eared owls nesting at the Imperial Grasslands in the path of construction. The Findlay Connector received its name because it served as a connector from the Weirton, West Virginia/Steubenville, Ohio area to the Pittsburgh International Airport through Findlay Township. The connector reduced the average commute time between these places by at least 15 minutes. The Findlay Connector opened on October 11, 2006. Before construction of the Findlay Connector, residents from the Weirton/Steubenville area had to travel down US 22 all the way down to PA 60 in heavily congested Robinson Township, then take then-PA 60 North to the Airport. In 2009, PA 60 north of the interchange was rebranded as an extension of I-376. Due to funding limitations, as well as emphasis on connecting the two fragmented sections of the Mon–Fayette Expressway between Uniontown and Brownsville, the Findlay Connector would be the only section of the Southern Beltway to be built for a decade.
US 22 to I-79Edit
On December 21, 2012, the PTC announced that construction of a 13.2 mile section between US 22 and I-79 will proceed. Completion date initially projected was to occur sometime in 2021, however weather conditions and certain other unanticipated delays has pushed the probable completion date closer to summer 2022.
The toll route between US 22 and I-79 will feature all-electronic Cashless E-ZPass tolling as the Findlay Connector now does. On November 25, 2013, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed a transportation bill into law, known as Act 89, that will raise vehicle registration fees and uncap the oil tax cap in order to fund transportation projects in the state. Act 89 is expected to provide funding to complete the Southern Beltway all the way to the Mon–Fayette Expressway and provide a little less than half of the $2.2 billion (as of December 2013) needed to complete the Mon–Fayette Expressway.
The second leg of the Southern Beltway will be the first project completed with the new funding available for both the Southern Beltway and the Mon–Fayette Expressway. On January 13, 2014, the PTC awarded two contracts for the project, with an anticipated completion date of 2019, a year ahead of the original schedule. Increased activity in the Marcellus Formation, which was just beginning when the Findlay Connector opened in 2006, helped expedite the earlier opening date for the second section of the Southern Beltway.
Construction started on February 17, 2014, with rock blasting on the unbuilt end of the US 22 interchange in order to begin building the bridge to carry the Southern Beltway over US 22, while a formal groundbreaking with Governor Corbett and other state officials occurred on May 12, 2014. Construction past the aforementioned interchange began in January 2017 and will eventually involve excavating underneath I-79 in order for the Southern Beltway to pass underneath that highway. Work is expected to begin on the 3.2-mile section of the highway between the Panhandle Trail and Cecil Reissing Road in Cecil in March 2017. It is a $90.6 million project.
The second leg of the Southern Beltway is expected to provide a lot of economic development to rural northwestern Washington County. As part of the building of the road, Robinson Township has changed many of its zoning laws in order to provide development along the Southern Beltway corridor, including allowing hydraulic fracturing in certain zones. Additionally, since the project was announced, Royal Dutch Shell has gone through with plans to build a $6 billion cracker plant in nearby Monaca, Pennsylvania in Beaver County. This in itself has caused a major economic boom in the area, with numerous hotels and a mini-casino being built in the vicinity.
I-79 to PA Turnpike 43Edit
In December 2014, it was reported that the Mon–Fayette Expressway and the Southern Beltway might get additional funding through foreign investors who obtain an EB-5 visa in exchange for investing at least $500,000 for public projects. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will use EB-5 funding for the Pennsylvania Turnpike/Interstate 95 Interchange Project first before determining if it will use such funding for other projects. The PTC was expected to make a decision on how to proceed on the Southern Beltway's final leg by mid-2015. On June 18, 2015, the PTC announced that the final leg of the Southern Beltway would be restarted and return to the design phase, though no timetable for its construction has been established.
Due to ongoing financial issues with the PTC regarding Act 44, the future of the Mon–Fayette Expressway and the Southern Beltway was in doubt due to the PTC wanting to focus its capital expenses on its ongoing project of widening the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike to six lanes except at its tunnels. On November 16, 2016, the PTC announced that they wouldn't suspend any capital projects for the time being, but did place the Mon–Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway projects on a list to be suspended if “future financial or economic conditions dictate a construction spending reduction”. The Mon–Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway projects made the list despite the fact that the two projects are funded independently of toll revenue. The announcement isn't expected to affect the 2nd leg of the Southern Beltway.
|Length||5.53 mi (8.90 km)|
When the Southern Beltway is completed around Pittsburgh, it will be re-designated as Interstate 576.  Likely, the eastern terminus of I-576 will be at its terminus at the Mon-Fayette Expressway, possibly another interstate.  Both the Southern Beltway and the Mon–Fayette Expressway are being built to Interstate standards just for such designations, though the majority of the Mon–Fayette Expressway is currently signed as PA Turnpike 43, PA 43, or WV 43.
Currently, four exits are open along PA Turnpike 576.
|I-376 – Beaver, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh International Airport||Exit 53 on I-376; western terminus of PA Turnpike 576, and signed as exits 1A (west) & 1B (east); 0 is for airport westbound; trumpet interchange.|
|1.4||2.3||1C||US 30 – Clinton, Imperial|
|2.6||4.2||Mainline toll gantry|
|3.7||6.0||4||Westport Road||Formerly Santiago-Bavington|
|Washington||Robinson Township||5.6||9.0||6||US 22 – Pittsburgh, Weirton||Current eastern terminus of PA Turnpike 576|
|6.3||10.1||Mainline toll gantry|
|7.7||12.4||9||Beech Hollow Road|
|10.7||17.2||11||PA 980||Access to McDonald and Pennsylvania Route 980.|
|Allegheny||South Fayette Township||13.7||22.0||Mainline toll gantry|
|Washington||Cecil Township||18.2||29.3||18||I-79||No access from I-79 north to exit 19 (Morganza Road)|
|19.2||30.9||19||Morganza Road||Future temporary eastern terminus; no access from I-79 north|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi|
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- "Construction to begin in January on next phase of Southern Beltway". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 23, 2016.
- "Pre-construction hearing on Southern Beltway project set for Thursday". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
- "Robinson Township holds public hearing on proposed zoning ordinance and map". Washington Observer-Reporter. June 2, 2014.[permanent dead link]
- Shell confirms it will build cracker plant in Potter Twp. The Beaver County Times (06/07/2016)
- "Corbett breaks ground for new Southern Beltway leg". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 12, 2014.
- Stonesifer, Jared. "Hilton hotel planned for Center Township". The Times. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
- Kerlik, Bobby (December 13, 2014). "Investors Eager to Trade Cash for Green Cards in Immigration Program". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
- Pennsylvania Turnpike Southern Beltway extension gets funding Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (July 28, 2014)
- Pennsylvania Turnpike officials revive Mon-Fayette Expressway extension Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (June 18, 2015)
- "Turnpike debt puts projects at risk". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. November 16, 2016.
- "PA Turnpike Commission Completes Reassessment of Construction Spending". Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
- "Pennsylvania Highways: PA Turnpike 576". www.pahighways.com. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
- Webmaster. "Interstate 576 Pennsylvania". Interstate-Guide.com. Retrieved August 8, 2019.