Flyover ramp is a rainbow in McKeesport

October 14, 2010
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Liquid sunshine,” McKeesport city administrator Dennis Pittman said of the raindrops that pelted a group celebrating a ray of hope for the city.

Business and political leaders gathered Oct. 4 to break ground on a flyover ramp they hope will open 135 acres of former mill property to job-generating redevelopment.

The $10.9 million ramp will carry traffic from Lysle Boulevard/Route 148 over a rail line and into the RIDC Industrial Center of McKeesport, former site of U.S. Steel’s National Tube Works.

The ability to see sunshine where there is none has been a useful skill throughout the Mon Valley for the past 30 years as cities and boroughs have struggled to fill the void left by the collapse of their manufacturing bases.

“If nothing else, we’re a persistent bunch here in the Mon Valley,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

“We remember what these sites were for our fathers and grandfathers,” he said. The new initiative creates a vision “of what they’ll look like for our grandchildren.”

McKeesport “is a city everyone had buried seven or eight years ago,” said Mayor James R. Brewster. “This ramp opens up vast opportunities for development. This is a big piece of the future for us.”

Mr. Pittman said the ramp project, scheduled for completion in November 2011, already is attracting interest from businesses.

United States Green Energy Corp., a Fredericksburg, Va.-based maker of solar panels, plans to establish a manufacturing plant in the industrial park, with up to 225 jobs.

Two other companies, which he declined to identify as talks continue, could bring another 1,000 jobs and 60 jobs, respectively, he said.

Bill Burroughs, senior real estate adviser for Regional Industrial Development Corp., owner of the site, said manufacturing is the preferred use for the property, but “the flyover really makes it possible to introduce the concept of retail.”

The industrial park experienced a setback this year when DISH Network closed a call center that had employed 600. Officials hope to attract a tenant to fill that space and to make more renovations on a neighboring 200,000-square-foot shell that formerly was part of the tube mill.

Dan Cessna, district executive for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the project would enhance safety. The only current access to the site is over at-grade railroad crossings with heavy freight train traffic.

Before wielding their ceremonial shovels, the dignitaries praised a cooperative effort by federal, state, county and municipal governments that brought the project to fruition more than a decade after it was proposed.

“If we continue to work together, this region will be a destination of choice for businesses and families,” said Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin.

“It’s a phoenix that’s rising from the ashes, and we want to be a part of it,” said William Bates, vice president of real estate for Eat ‘n Park, which recently announced a 10-year commitment to retain its Lysle Boulevard restaurant near the flyover.

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