Aspinwall council agrees to seek reallocation of funds for intersection project

Over the objections of hundreds of residents decked out in fluorescent yellow T-shirts, Aspinwall Borough Council voted Wednesday night to back a controversial plan and redirect funding so a new intersection can be built at Freeport Road and Eastern Avenue.

Council split, 4-3, in its decision to support the reallocation of as much as $1.2 million in state and county grant funds for the project, which would provide a link between Freeport Road, the Aspinwall Riverfront Park and a proposed mixed-use development adjoining the park.

The money initially was intended to realign the intersection of Freeport Road and Brilliant Avenue, but late last year, developers proposed Riverfront 47, a plan to redevelop 47 acres of riverfront property at the former AZCON scrap yard.

The development partners, led by the Mosites Co., proposed building 521 housing units and 257,000 square feet of commercial space as part of the development, which straddles parts of Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg.

Council cannot redirect grants on its own but can ask the funding agencies — in this case the state Department of Transportation and the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County’s Gaming Economic Development Fund — to divert the money. The development team must meet a series of conditions by June 30 for that request to be made.

A packed room spills out the doors behind Bill Manifesto, 79, of Sewickley, as he asks questions about the Eastern Avenue reconstruction project on Wednesday at Aspinwall’s council meeting at St. Scholastica Pastoral Center. Mr. Manifesto was born in Aspinwall and has family including a son and a sister who live there. He said he also owns five pieces of property in the town. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)

Among the conditions are the purchase of a Sunoco gas station to provide access on Freeport Road, restrictions on construction vehicles using local streets, funding of traffic mitigation measures by the developer and a tax revenue agreement with the other municipalities.

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Hundreds of residents at the meeting said they opposed the new intersection at Eastern Avenue and Freeport Road. Many of them belong to Priority Aspinwall, a group concerned over safety and traffic in the already congested Freeport Road corridor.

“This would mean that the park would completely be bisected by a road,” said group member Jan Beumer. “My kid runs around there. The council seems to have been swayed by the financial carrots that the developer has dangled before them.”

Also speaking out against the project was Steve Ninehauser, whose father, Robert, was killed recently while trying to cross Freeport Road near Western Avenue.

“We’re having trouble wrapping our heads around what happened,” said Mr. Ninehauser, who said he’d rather see the funds spent improving safety at the Brilliant Avenue intersection.

Traffic consultants have estimated that 300 new car trips per hour would occur during the morning and evening rush hours and on Saturday at the new Eastern Avenue entrance. Residents, though, were doubtful the estimates could be so low.

“Traffic is already bad and we’re concerned about adding to it. We already rank really high in livable communities. We don’t understand how this can benefit us,” said group member Lara Voytko, who added that only about 12 percent of the site is in Aspinwall, with the majority located in Sharpsburg. “We don’t feel we should have to bear the burden the of the developer wanting to use the Aspinwall cachet.”

Voting in favor were Trip Oliver, Mark Ellermeyer, Jennifer Evashavik, and Tim McLaughlin. Dissenting were Ann Marsico, Joseph Noro and Ann Pawlikowski.

Janice Crompton: or 412-263-1159.