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Surface Transportation Policy Project and Zero Population Growth Testimony

Remarks of Ronald C. Yochum, Jr.
Assistant for Public Policy and C.I.O.
August 18th, 1998

My name is Ronald Yochum from Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.  I am here today to thank the professionals at the Surface Transportation Policy Project and Zero Population Growth for their comprehensive and factual study on the Southern Expressway.

I would like to comment on the two premises of building this highway: 

  • The highway will bring development to the region.
  • The highway will give better access to the region.

Quite frankly, the premises are flawed.

First, on development.  No permanent or new jobs will be created in the City by this highway.  For example, according to the Urban Land Institute, a typical metropolitan area in the United States, such as Cleveland, Ohio, may capture as little as 4 percent of new development within the city or older suburbs.  The vast majority of new development (96%) is on farmland.

I see no concrete data on employment.  I see no concrete data on companies that will relocate here from outside of our region.  I see no concrete data on retaining a viable population in our city as opposed to populating our precious farmlands with thousands of cardboard-cutout houses.  The only thing that I see here that is concrete is the highway.

The total $3 Billion, 200 Million dollar expenditure of this highway, if invested at a conservative rate, could employ over 2,600 high-skilled workers with an average salary of $42,000 a year from age 21 until retirement.

Where is the logic here?  Highways are not generators of wealth for depressed communities.  Highways bypass depressed communities to go where the money and the educated work-force is.  Think of I-279 and Cranberry Township.  Think of the economic wealth that is there.  It wasn’t generated.  It wasn’t created.  It was transferred directly from the Pittsburgh Metropolitan area in a phenomenon called “urban flight”.  Do you see any transfer to the North Side or East St. Valley?  NO!

Stable communities south of Pittsburgh including Brentwood, Whitehall, Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon, will suffer population loss on a scale unprecedented in their history.  As a result of the highway, there will be a vicious circle of diminished property values and higher taxes.  Why?  The most affluent residents will migrate to the new suburbs, new residents will choose not to live in dying communities, property values will decrease due to lack of demand, and property taxes will rise because there will be less tax revenue due to urban flight and the decrease in property values.  After all, the public infrastructure does not shrink proportionally with the decline of population.  Just ask the Mayor why he recently tried to create a special fee for garbage removal, a service that traditionally was paid for by your property and wage tax.

And the trail of destruction doesn’t just stop at the older suburbs.  Just outside our County lies precious farmland.  Thousands of acres of this farmland will be tilled under and planted with suburbs in place of crops while the heart of our great city loses more if its lifeblood population.  Fragmentation of our community will become more evident with greater distances between homes, work, recreation areas, schools, race, class and income.  The highway’s impact is wholesale destruction disguised as progress. We are killing our city’s, we are killing our older suburbs, we are killing our farmland.

I’ve heard the comment that we cannot prosper in the world economy without good highway access.  What does that mean?  This region right here built our country.  This region right here was responsible for supplying our soldiers and allies in the effort to defend our great country from tyranny in World War II.  Today, our City is a leader in the high technology field and computers.  Today, our City is one of the world’s premier medical center.  All of this occurred without relying on the overabundance of highways that bypass our city.  We have rivers, we have rail, we have air.  And today we have many highways to service our city.  We do not have to build more roads with the empty promise of more prosperity.  In fact, San Francisco experienced a commercial and residential revival only after the Embarcadero Freeway was torn down!  This flies directly in the face of the current philosophy.  Our infrastructure is in place, but it is in need of extensive reinvestment. We must improve and maintain our existing roads which over 36% of are considered in “poor” condition.  Improvements in alternative transportation methods, such as light rail to the East End, would alleviate much of the need to build “traffic-reducing” superhighways.

Hand in hand with improvements to our infrastructure, we must improve the overall competitiveness of our City by working with companies that are located here.  We must find creative ways to keep existing businesses from leaving while bringing in new businesses.  We have acres of undeveloped land right here in our City.  Redeveloping existing abandoned industrial sites such as the former J&L site on the South Side, the Metal Source site in Manchester, the Strip District, and other commercial areas should be priority # 1.  We should be focusing our resources on restoring our neighborhoods and vitality to our cities and older suburbs.

We need to spend $3.2 billion on education, skill training, infrastructure enhancement, neighborhood restoration, and tax reduction instead of new, unnecessary highways. That will make us healthy and prosper.

We must invest our limited resources intelligently.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633