Out of all of the proposed expressways that were cancelled, this one perhaps lasted the longest. In 1984, Champion Map Corporation had this expressway shown on its map of Pittsburgh and even as late as 1986, Rand McNally indicated this highway as "proposed" paralleling the PA 48 alignment.
|Click on map for a more detailed plan.|
In the early-1960s, things seemed to be progressing on the expressway at a break-neck pace. A public hearing was held on May 24, 1963 to discuss construction and impacts of this replacement alignment, or "New 48," to the community. The PA 51 to US 30 segment had reached the preliminary design phase and would proceed into the final design with approval from the Bureau of Public Roads. North of US 30 was at the same status as the southern section; however, both had a date of construction as "indefinite." How correct that would become when the Department of Transportation axes would eventually axe the expressway in the 1970s.
The $43 million expressway would have started at PA 51 just north of the intersection with PA 48, traversed Elizabeth Township paralleling PA 48, crossed the Youghiogheny River northeast of Boston to once again join up with the PA 48 alignment. Continuing paralleling PA 48, the expressway would have cut though what is now Oak Park Mall, where a cloverleaf interchange with Lincoln Way would have been constructed. The Transportation Commission, an expansion of the old State Highway Commission and in charge of maintaining a six-year highway building, plan chose this path because it would save $6.5 million in construction costs. In Monroeville, it would have joined the Parkway East and the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Pittsburgh Interchange. Interchanges would have been constructed at the following locations:
However, before construction could begin, the right-of-way needed to be cleared. One of the first acquisitions by the state was the former Rainbow Gardens Amusement Park which was located at the intersection of PA 48 and Lincoln Way in White Oak. About 200 representatives from carnivals and amusement parks from Florida to Canada showed up for an auction on October 30, 1968. Park Manager, Evan Joseph Volpe, looking back at the 28 years he spent at the park saying, "Feel bad?" he asked. "I haven't had time yet. That'll come later." Auctioneer Harry Davis and Company from Pittsburgh had to be pleased in the $80,000 that was generated. The 30-horse, four double seat merry-go-round went for $2,100 to Sal Baneato of Kansas City, Missouri; the Tilt-a-Whirl was purchased by R. B. Coburn of Cherokee, North Carolina; and one-third mile of track and two eight-car trains were bought by Benjamin Butler of Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania. John Branearbi from The Bronx, New York, purchased the 45-foot-high Ferris Wheel that he planned to convert to a portable ride for traveling shows.
My mom who is from McKeesport originally, grew up going to Rainbow Gardens. Nearly every time we would drive past she'd say, "That used to be my amusement park. They tore down my park to build a road!" Even if she did not know it, mom was a young NIMBYer. I always felt a sense of sadness when she would say that, because it did end up being destroyed for nothing. When she was working in the trust department at one of the banks in McKeesport back in the late-1960s, she dealt with the estate of Allen Eli Evans. He owned the land which Rainbow Gardens sat upon, and which the bank had to sell to the state for the purpose of the North-South Parkway.
Besides Rainbow Gardens, a drive-in theater, a bowling alley, several restaurants, a motel, and dozens of homes had been purchased and razed mostly around a two-mile area in White Oak. The buying frenzy started in 1968 and then from 1970 until stopping abruptly in 1972. PennDOT purchased 132 properties totaling nearly 400 acres along Long Run Road, PA 48, and Lincoln Way.
In 1970, a land exchange which would have permitted construction to begin in White Oak seemed to be on the verge of completion. The plan would have transferred 42 acres of park land to the state in exchange for an equal amount on the western edge of the expressway. That deal fell through and with it, work on the highway stalled. At the time, State Representative Joseph Bonetto felt confident construction would commence in 1971.
By 1973, the cost of building the North-South Parkway had risen to more than $200 million. However, nary a single spade-full of dirt had been moved towards completion. When asked that year, James Hobbs, assistant state district engineer for planning and programming, said a pending agreement with the county on a land exchange would clear the way for work to begin on the first segment. Aside from that, environmental impact statements had to be circulated to more than 20 state and federal agencies.
Movement was made on the land exchange on March 29, 1973 when the Allegheny County Law Department was authorized by county commissioners to draw up an agreement with the McKeesport Sprotsmen's Association. Under the agreement, the county would receive two acres of their property in exchange for a half-acre of White Oak Park land to permit alignment of the expressway's right-of-way. State Representative Bonetto, who championed the exchange three years earlier and was a member of the Route 48 Association, acted as an intermediary between the county and state in negotiations over the needed land. "The importance of the new Route 48, which will parallel the old road, is that it will give the Mon-Yough Valley a rebirth." By this time, the section between Lincoln Way and US 30 was still in the design stage.
|Proposed alignment of the "New 48" as shown in 1986. (Rand McNally)|
|Proposed alignment through Versailles. (Champion Map)|
|Proposed alignment through McKeesport for the "New 48" as well as the Pittsburgh-McKeesport Expressway. (McKeesport Planning Commission)|
|Proposed alignment through Monroeville. (Champion Map)|
On October 17, 1975, the Borough of White Oak sued the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to recover $155,000 in allegedly lost property taxes through the state's failure to begin construction of the expressway. The borough also stated in its Commonwealth Court suit that delay in construction is a "clear case of bureaucratic bungling" that has turned the center of the borough "into a barren and unsightly wasteland." It also asked for punitive damages of an unspecified amount and petitioned the court to order PennDOT to either start construction or sell the land they had acquired so far at public auction. The petition laid out that $7 million had been spent on land acquisitions since 1968. The borough stated it had already lost $55,000 in taxes from properties taken off the tax rolls since that year. It predicted to lose an additional $100,000 by 1983 when it predicted construction would finally start.
"This is not another East Street Valley Expressway [Interstate 279 in Pittsburgh]," said Edward J. Osterman, White Oak solicitor. "The residents of East Street were opposed to the construction of that road; the residents of White Oak are not opposed to construction. We just want to see the road built on the land that was taken for it." The lawsuit contended the state's property acquisition and demolition work have left a trail of devastation through the community. "We want to emphasize that this is not a partisan matter because the Route 48 project has been delayed by administrations of both parties and we hope to be joined in our legal action by the McKeesport Area School District, Allegheny County, the Mon-Yough Chamber of Commerce, and other municipalities along the proposed route," said White Oak Mayor Jack Patterson. However, the Commonwealth Court rejected the suit.
There was speculation that the expressway would not move beyond the drawing board by 1977. "It's questionable the thing will ever be built," said Frank Taylor, Pittsburgh area right-of-way administrator for PennDOT. Robert Cunliffe, chief counsel for the Department of Transportation in Harrisburg, said no decision had been made at the time to abandon the project but it was removed from the 12-year plan. The Borough of White Oak estimated it had lost anywhere between $60,000 and $80,000 in property and wage taxes and an estimated total loss of revenues as high as $300,000 for the borough, McKeesport Area School District, and Allegheny County. "We want this property either returned to the tax rolls or we want the highway project to proceed," said White Oak solicitor, Edward J. Osterman. "With property costs rising and wages spiraling each year we stand to lose even more." Osterman took the appeal to the state Supreme Court during the third week of October 1977 on grounds that "it's rather ridiculous to let that property go to waste for at least another 12 years when it can be on the tax roles helping us." He added that many private and commercial developers have expressed interested in the cleared areas, but it would take a turn of events for the state to sell. At the time there was a bill circulating in the state legislature which would make it easier for PennDOT to auction its parcels. Legislation or not, Cunliffe said there was no plans to sell any property and even though the highway was off the 12-year plan, "it's not dead." Osterman said, "PennDOT has carte blanche in highway acquisitions and there's no way to take them to task." He added, "If the legislature can't straighten it out, the courts will have to. We don't want precious property being in limbo for the next 25 years."
At a meeting at the White Oak Municipal Building on February 5, 1982, Frank Taylor of PennDOT offered a mea culpa on behalf of the department. Instead of buying property, he was wanting to give it back to the original owners. "I'm a little nervous," he told a crowd of more than 75 residents. "It's hard to reverse a procedure you've been doing so long." This is something that had never been done on a scale like this in the western part of the state, but it was now legal for PennDOT to return property it won't use due to new legislation at the time. Roger Carrier, PennDOT district engineer for Allegheny County, said his agency was "facing the music over an old problem. We used to promise and not deliver — but not anymore."
Resident Michael Kleback wanted none of it and called PennDOT "the eminent domain hucksters" during a fiery exchanged that prompted applause from those in attendance. Kleback argued that the state forced the project on the residents and businesses and now is trying to get them all to but their properties back. White Oak officials estimated that more than $800,000 in property taxes over the previous 12 years had been lost. The borough wanted PennDOT to relocate Long Run Creek before it being turned back because most of the property is within a flood plain, and doing so would reduce the chance of flooding and make the land more attractive. Carrier said the list of highways and bridges that need repairs get top priority over digging new creeks. "I won't promise anything but we'll look into it," he said.
The 33-acre former site of Rainbow Gardens was sold by PennDOT in the summer of 1982 to Christian Life Church for $351,102; however, the borough council rejected their plan for a school and retirement home because it would not generate tax revenue. They then passed an ordinance that prohibited tax-exempt organizations from developing the site. The property would sit idle for another decade until construction would start on the Oak Park Mall shopping center which opened in 1993.
While the expressway was killed under the Shapp administration in the mid-1970s, there are still physical remnants that this expressway was to be built. Several houses along Center Street in White Oak were acquired by the Commonwealth and demolished; however, the stairs to them still exist. Across from the Peoples Gas complex, on PA 48 where Center Street intersects, a small farm and house once stood which was also purchased by the state.
PA Turnpike 43
Pittsburgh-McKeesport Expressway (Cancelled)
Route 30 Relocation (Cancelled)
Borough of White Oak vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation - Casetext
History of the "New 48" - Adam Prince
PA 48 - Adam Prince