The origins of this expressway lie in a time when most expressways were facing the chopping block.  In the early 1970s, Allegheny County began purchasing properties in Findlay Township, displacing hundreds of families, to make way for the Southern Expressway, the Midfield Terminal, and other airport-related projects.  There had been an expressway devised in the 1963 Pittsburgh transportation plan that would have served the same area; however, in the plan it was referred to as the Airport Terminal Freeway.

Senator Arlen Specter urged the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to prioritize funding of construction of the Southern Expressway.  He made his plea on December 15, 1982, in a letter to Senator Robert Stafford, chairman of the committee.  In his letter, Specter noted the US House of Representatives had given priority status to funding the expressway.

The expressway received a financial "shot in the arm" on September 19, 1985, when on a visit to Pittsburgh, Governor Richard Thornburgh announced the state would provide $8 million for design and engineering work.  It was part of $17 million in state funds for Strategy 21, a $1.9 billion economic development plan for western Pennsylvania.  However, the governor stopped short of saying whether state funds would be offered for construction.  "Once this design and engineering money is committed, I feel the road will be built," said Commissioner Tom Foerster.  Commissioner Pete Flaherty said Thornburgh's action was "a positive commitment to the Southern Expressway."  Commissioner Barbara Hafer concurred and added that since the highway will be built, "the Midfield Terminal has to be built."

Allegheny County and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania highway planners unveiled the $90 million Southern Expressway on October 30, 1985.  The county would be responsible for designing the roadway in the next three years and the Department of Transportation would build it in two years, then assume ownership once completed.  John F. Graham, county director of engineering and construction, said the expressway would be built regardless of a new terminal also being built.  "We need this highway to complete a missing highway link between the Airport Parkway and the Beaver Valley Expressway," said Graham.  "I think the terminal will be constructed by the time we finish the highway."  The meeting was to divide up responsibilities for the project.  Graham added there was enough money for planning and designing, but financing construction was still undecided.  However, regional planners were considering various solutions such as federal or regional development grants or even tolls.  A project of this scale would usually take at least seven years, but since the county already owned most of the affected property, at least two years could be shaved off the schedule.

Just as the numerous planned expressways throughout the state languished, so did this one.  That was until the 1986 state budget, where not only $50 million was set aside for the new airport terminal, but an additional $70 million put towards this roadway.  Then Governor Richard Thornburgh and his transportation secretary, Tom Larson, managed to get those two projects into that year's budget.  "I never really mentioned the highway," said David Donahoe, who was the county's airport director at the time.  "But the state agreed to push for a substantial amount of money for the Pittsburgh International's new Midfield Terminal.  Then Tom Larson and the governor looked at it and said, 'This isn't complete without the highway.'  On their own initiative, they included the highway.  I was shocked."

In July 1988, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was released which contained four alternatives:

Alternative 1 - Minimum Build

Alternative 2 - Improvements to SR 60

Alternative 3 - Limited Improvements to SR 60 and Construction of the Southern Expressway

Alternative 4 - Major Improvements to SR 60 and Construction of the Southern Expressway

Diagrams of the proposed alternatives for highway access to the new Pittsburgh International Airport terminal
Diagrams of the four proposed alternatives for creating and improving highway access to the new airport terminal.
(US Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration)

Alternative 4 was presented as the preferred alternative in the Draft EIS.  It was considered the most extensive and contained flexible capabilities to meet future local and regional traffic and development needs.

In terms of effective airport access, Alternative 4, with the Southern Expressway, provides:

In terms of local development demands, Alternative 4 provides:

In terms of its role in the regional transportation network, Alternative 4 provides:

A narrowing of the alternatives was taken, which saw Alternative 1 and Alternative 3 dropped.  However, support for the remaining two would depend upon effective impact reduction and mitigation with this selected alternative.  Wetland mitigation was one issue in particular, with stipulations laid out to avoid them entirely, reduce the amount of intrusion on those that cannot be avoided, and reduce impacts to the remaining wetlands such as re-establishing water supply sources into those otherwise isolated by construction.  The area around Enlow Road was of particular concern.

Results from the Final EIS meeting on May 22, 1989, gave Alternative 4 the stamp of approval, but with some modifications.  Alignment shifts and design refinements would be included in the Enlow Road and proposed Crosswinds Runway areas to reduce wetland loss and impacts, as outlined in the Draft EIS.  A Habitat and Water Resource Protection Strategy would guide development of habitat and water resource mitigation, and directly involve resource agencies in the master planning process for Pittsburgh International Airport.  Continual cooperation with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources would continue during development of the expressway project in regard to wetlands and stream encroachment, with the DER regarding solid waste management and earth disturbance permitting.  Coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration would continue regarding airport runway clearance, airport facilities access, and the transfer of property for expressway construction.

Beyond the Southern Expressway, Alternative 4 encompassed upgrading the highway system around the airport property to create a beltway.  However, since the state was only chipping in $80 million in the 12-year plan meant the expressway would get built with the rest of the list put on hold.  Since Governor Robert Casey promised no tax increase when he took office, an increase in gasoline taxes to further road improvements would have to wait until his term ended in 1990 or for his successor to step up.  The three stages of Alternative 4 were:

Stage 1 (1992)

  1. Airport Parkway (auxiliary lanes to accommodate junction of Parkway and Southern Expressway from Montour Run Road to White Swan
  2. Southern Expressway (four through lanes from White Swan to Flaugherty Run)
  3. White Swan interchange and Hilton access
  4. Aten interchange
  5. Midfield interchange
  6. Moon-Clinton interchange (Ramps MC-A and MC-D)
  7. Flaugherty Run interchange (including Ramps FR-C and FR-D, FR-E, and FR-F)

Stage 2 (Future)

  1. Relocated Airport Parkway (Thorn Run Road to McLaughlin Road)
  2. Airport Parkway (safety update from White Swan to Thorn Run Road and from McLaughlin to Flaugherty Run)
  3. Hookstown interchange
  4. Beers School interchange
  5. McLaughlin interchange
  6. White Swan interchange (widen Ramps WS-A and WS-B by one lane)
  7. Southern Expressway (widen to six lanes White Swan to the Midfield Terminal)
  8. Aten interchange (widen Ramps A-A and A-D one lane)
  9. Midfield interchange (widen Ramp MT-A and MT-C
  10. Moon-Clinton interchange (construct Ramps MC-B and MC-C)
  11. Flaugherty Run Road interchange (construct Ramps FR-A and FR-B and widen Ramps FR-E and FR-F by one lane)

Stage 3 (Future)

  1. Airport Parkway (full widening to eight through lanes from US 22/US 30 to White Swan)
  2. Montour interchange
  3. Southern Expressway (widen to eight lanes from White Swan to Midfield Terminal
  4. Southern Expressway (widen to six lanes from the Midfield Terminal to Flaugherty Run
  5. Enlow interchange

Reaction to the construction of the Southern Expressway ran the gamut from one extreme to the other.  A majority of the Moon Township supervisors and the Airport Business and Commercial Development group opposed the expressway on the grounds it would divert traffic away from existing businesses.  The distance from the midfield terminal to hotels on University Boulevard would increase by four miles.  They feared that development along the expressway would have a competitive edge over similar establishments in their township.  Meanwhile, Findlay Township and Beaver County community officials eagerly awaited the expressway because they felt it would spur development in their areas.  However, the Airport Area Chamber of Commerce took a neutral approach, waiting until it had all the information needed to form a decision on its position.

Aside from money standing in the way of construction, but literally, so did the White Swan Amusement Park.  It was started by Edward and Margaret Kleeman and her brother Roy Todd in 1955.  Since driving to the airport to watch the planes was a popular pastime then, the family thought an amusement park on the heavily traveled Airport Parkway would be a wise business decision.

As far back as 1986, Allegheny County was interested in buying the amusement park for $2.7 million.  However, Margaret Kleeman and Roy Todd, who together ran White Swan, were asking $4.25 million.  Due to other outside interest, Kleeman and Todd were biding their time and kept the park operating.  "Everything has been blown out of proportion," Kleeman said.  "Everybody's been putting words in my mouth and I resent it.  It's been misinterpreted.  You can still sell a portion of your land without going out of business."  A year later, they increased their offer to $3 million.

On February 21, 1990, the Department of Transportation filed with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas a declaration of taking for the property.  In essence, they were staking their claim to the 40 acres.  Jeff Giltenboth, senior assistant counsel for PennDOT, explained the state was exercising its right of eminent domain.  "In this instance, PennDOT is acquiring the property for the expressway, which would create access to the new Midfield Terminal.  Obviously, the public has a great interest in the project," he said.  Kleeman and Todd were fighting the force acquisition, whose attorneys field preliminary objections in mid-April.  Giltenboth said PennDOT went this route after purchase negotiations, which had been ongoing since the end of summer 1989, bogged down.  The state was offering $4 million for the property, not including the equipment and 15 rides.  He would not elaborate on the amount offered for the equipment.  Giltenboth said he expected the court to "act in a rather expeditious manner that would put us on target with the October 1 start of construction at this (the White Swan Park) end."

Finally, on May 23, 1990, both parties reached an agreement that allowed PennDOT to take immediate possession of the amusement park.  The terms were worked out prior to a hearing that day in Common Pleas Court.  PennDOT agreed to contribute $138,000 in money, work, or materials toward a road project to the southwest of the park that would make a nearby four-acre parcel owned by the Kleeman-Todd family more accessible and increase its value.  The department also agreed to pay "delay compensation," interest at a minimum rate of 6%, on the purchase price for the park from February 21 until payment was made.  "In instances where the project is not as important as this, concessions like this would not have been made," said Jeff Giltenboth.  "But it was in the public's best interest to have this highway completed on a schedule that will hopefully coincide with the (October 1992) opening of the new Midfield Terminal."

In a statement announcing the acquisition, Kleeman and Todd thanked their visitors.  "We at White Swan Park have enjoyed spending our summers with you since 1955; it is sad to see the tradition end.  Thank you for all that you have done to make White Swan Park a special place."

While they accepted $975,000 for the rides, buildings, and equipment, there was still a disagreement over the amount for the land.  PennDOT offered $4 million, which included the rights to billboard signs and another right of way bisecting the property, but Kleeman and Todd wanted $8 million.  They eventually landed on a mutually agreed upon price of $4.8 million for the land.  PennDOT initially offered to relocate the park, but Kleeman and Todd felt it was time to close up shop, especially since the 1980s were a difficult time for amusement parks, with one-half of them shuttering across the state during the decade.

The Department of Transportation held an auction for the rides and attractions starting at 10:30 AM on September 12, 1990, which brought in prospective bidders from 30 states and even as far away as South America!  It pulled in $375,000, which is about a third of what it paid for the equipment.  Afterward, the buildings and remaining attractions would be demolished to make way for the connection to the Airport Parkway.  White Swan met its demise due to an expressway just as Rainbow Gardens in White Oak had a little over two decades earlier, except in this case, the expressway was actually built.

News coverage of the auction that took place on September 12, 1990. (KDKA-TV Pittsburgh)

Besides White Swan Park, PennDOT faced several obstacles to completing the expressway.  Time was perhaps the biggest and one that could not be avoided.  Allegheny County commissioners Chairman Tom Foerster said, "I'm convinced Governor Casey and [Howard] Yerusalim have pulled out all stops to make good on their commitment" to finish the highway on time.  If unable to get the main part of the expressway, officials said traffic could be temporarily routed past the Greater Pitt terminal and utilize the Beaver Valley Expressway to Flaugherty Run Road to access the new terminal via a "back door."  However, because the Southern Expressway's ramps to and from Flaugherty Run Road would only be one lane, PennDOT and the county would need contingency plans such as using shuttle buses from the existing airport parking lots and construction service roads to ease congestion.  PennDOT District 11 Engineer Henry Nutbrown agreed, all that adds up to an "uphill battle" for his office.  "There are lots of 'ifs,'" he said.

Aside from time, PennDOT also had to overcome some unusual obstacles.  Subsurface investigations uncovered 350,000 cubic yards of buried garbage at the site of the airport interchange the Department of Transportation spent $5.1 million to remove, as well as two underground coal fires at Enlow Road that the expressway had to be routed between.  PennDOT had to spend about $10 million to avoid some wetlands in the path and relocate other wetlands.

Due to concerns over the project schedule, PennDOT promoted engineer Joseph DiFiore to be Henry Nutbrown's special assistant in January 1990.  His sole job was to oversee and coordinate the Southern Expressway construction.  The contract would not go out to bid until July, and it would be at least mid-fall before all five were awarded and work got underway.

One of the most important was construction of the $33 million interchange with the Airport Parkway at the location of White Swan Park.  It was tentatively a 30-month construction schedule, which means its completion wouldn't happen until six months after the terminal opened in March 1993.  Nutbrown assured the mainline connection to the airport would be finished, but some ramps and other incidental work at this particular interchange may not.

PennDOT enforced the steepest penalty clauses in construction contracts in department history, to guarantee the schedules would be met.  At the same time, they also considered using a "carrot-and-stick" approach, offering bonuses if contractors finished ahead of schedule.  At the same time, PennDOT agreed to "fast track" the project, which meant extra money is authorized to speed things along and bypass normal bureaucratic procedures.  Instead of mailing or hand-delivering plans to the headquarters in Harrisburg for review and approval, PennDOT and Federal Highway Administration officials were coming to the District 11 office for meetings, sometimes for days at a time.

At this point, no more than $32 million had been secured for the project, with $20 million from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard for a new interchange and road, and $8 million to $12 million from the federal government.

Nutbrown also warned of other factors that could hamper progress on the expressway, such as heavy rains such as the kind that inundated the area the previous spring, labor stoppages, subsurface problems such as the landfill, and work restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.  Contractors had to consider airport operations while using explosives or working at night.  In fact, at one point during construction, while working near the runways at night, crews needed special light arrangements so as not to confuse pilots.

Lang Construction Corporation of Connecticut began work August 1, 1990, on the $14 million initial contract of the now-$150 million expressway.  This first step involved building approximately a half-mile of four-lane roadway and ramps to Flaugherty Run Road.  Henry Nutbrown, PennDOT District 11 Engineer, felt the start of work was a psychological lift needed by all working on the project.  "I liken this to a boxer who is very nervous before the match.  After the first punch, he relaxes and settles into his fight plan," said Nutbrown.  "It's true of us highway engineers.  We were anxious to get the first punch thrown."

The expressway would be four lanes throughout, with a third climbing lane on the westbound side from the Airport Parkway to halfway between the McClaren Road and airport interchanges.  Those two points, as well as at Clinton Road and Flaugherty Run Road, is where interchanges would be located.

An official groundbreaking ceremony was held there 26 days later in the vicinity of Hookstown Grade Road, which was attended by state and local dignitaries.  "We're standing on the most important transportation corridor in the state of Pennsylvania," said Governor Robert Casey.  "This terminal and road system will lead Western Pennsylvania to the markets of the nation and the world."  He said the Southern Expressway has been one of his top priorities since he took office.  Also in attendance was Secretary of Transportation Howard Yerusalim who emphasized the state's commitment to the region, noting $1 billion has been allocated for transportation improvement projects in the county since Casey became governor.  Tom Foerster, chairman of the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners, called the terminal and expressway "the most important project in the history of this commonwealth."  He also urged Governor Casey to raise the gasoline tax to fund additional transportation projects in the airport area.

Secretary of Transportation Howard Yerusalim toured the project at the end of May 1991, and said that the new highway remained on target for an October 1992 opening.  Favorable weather during the end of 1990 and beginning of 1991 helped to keep the construction crews on time or slightly ahead of schedule.  "I am highly impressed with the construction activity," said Yerusalim.  "This highway project remains a top priority in the state because of its economic impact to southwestern Pennsylvania."

By the time of the secretary's visit, piers had been erected for a $7 million bridge to carry the roadway over wetlands and Enlow Road, as well as abutments for one part of the airport interchange.  Girders had been set for a bridge to carry Clinton Road over the future roadway.  Most of the right-of-way had been graded to its final level, but blasting of solid earth mounds was still taking place near Enlow Road.  Contractors worked with state agencies on the removal of more than 150,00 cubic yards of solid waste and petroleum products that had been dumped along the expressway's path.  "We have been planning contingencies in dealing with the wastes, but the problem has been less prevalent than we anticipated," said Dave Spagnolli, supervising engineer for PennDOT.  He added that crews were also treating acid mine water, filling voids of deep, abandoned mines, and reclaiming strip mine sites.  Paving began in July 1991 on the first segment, with paving having started on nearly half of the expressway by the end of the year.

Originally projected with a $90 million price tag, the Southern Expressway opened just after Labor Day on September 9, 1992, to a tune of $200 million and earned the unique distinction of being the last free expressway to be built in the Pittsburgh area.  Governor Robert Casey was among the invited guests to the 11 AM ribbon-cutting ceremony where the groundbreaking took place.  Aside from providing access to the airport, the Southern Expressway opened up thousands of acres around it for development, and provided a bypass of the former terminal for motorists traveling between Beaver County and Pittsburgh.  One feature of it is the median which was planned with future expansion in mind, whether it be light rail, the now-defunct Maglev project, a West Busway extension, or extra lanes whether they be HOV or not.

Air travelers were running into turbulence even before boarding a plane in the time between when the expressway opened and the Midfield Terminal opened.  Some were mistakenly taking the Southern Expressway to catch flights out of the soon-to-be decommissioned Greater Pittsburgh International Airport terminal.  The problem being the new road only connected to the new terminal, which wouldn't open until October 1, 1992.  "Some people aren't really paying attention to the signs out there," said Dick Skrinjar, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Another groundbreaking ceremony took place on November 12, 2003, but this time for the Southern Beltway.  Local officials as well as Governor Ed Rendell were on hand to kick off construction of the $224 million project on a knoll overlooking Pittsburgh International Airport.  Dick Corporation of Large built the $64.9 million western end, which includes ramps to and from the Southern Expressway and the airport.  The Clinton interchange on the Southern Expressway was upgraded from a partial to a full interchange with construction of ramps from eastbound and to westbound Interstate 376, with their opening on July 21, 2006.

On October 17, 2005, US Senator Rick Santorum and US Representative Melissa Hart made an announcement at Pittsburgh International Airport that has been years in coming.  The Interstate 376 designation would be extended and signed on this expressway, replacing the PA 60 designation, which was truncated at the US 22/US 30 interchange.  Improvements to the associated expressways and the designation change were included in the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" highway reauthorization bill passed two months earlier.  The cost for the extension was estimated at $80 million to bring the expressways to Interstate Standards, but doesn't have to be completed for 25 years and was certainly not by the target date of New Year's Day 2009.

By the mid-2010s, the expressway was in need of rehabilitation.  Two contracts were issued:  one covering from the western end to the airport/PA Turnpike 576 interchange, and the other from that point east to the Airport Parkway.  Both sections including reconstructing or rehabilitating the pavement, expansion join repairs, replacing bridges, latex overlay on bridge decks, retaining wall repairs, updating guide rails and bridge transitions, new pavement markings and signs, drainage improvements, and other miscellaneous improvement work.  The first contract began in December 2015 and the second a year later, but both concluded in 2019 for a combined total of $114 million.

Western Terminus: Interstate Business Loop 376 in Findlay Township
Eastern Terminus: Interstate Business Loop 376 in Moon Township
Length: 7.95 miles
National Highway System: Entire length
Name: Southern Expressway
SR Designation: 0376
Multiplexed Routes: None
County: Allegheny
Expressway: Entire length
Former Designation: PA 60 (1992 - 2009)
Former LR Designations: None
Emergency: 911
Links: Exit Guide
Future Interstate 376 Corridor Map
Southern Expressway Pictures
Interstate 376 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 376 - Andy Field/Alex Nitzman
Interstate 376 Pictures - Steve Alpert
Pittsburgh's Southern Expressway - The Region's Last Free Highway - Adam Prince