Feb. 23--Allegheny County must continue to develop the corridor near Pittsburgh International Airport to encourage regional economic growth, county Chief Executive Dan Onorato told local business leaders Friday.
"We have a gorgeous airport, we have capacity, and we have land we can't use," Mr. Onorato said before a gathering of members of the Pittsburgh Area Chamber of Commerce at the Doubletree Hotel in Moon.
The county owns some 10,000 acres of vacant land near the airport, and Mr. Onorato has made the creation of "shovel-ready" sites for businesses on that property a focal point of his time in office.
Just past the halfway point in his four-year term, Mr. Onorato took last week's speech as an opportunity to tout some of his successes at the airport so far.
Infrastructure development -- grading, roads and utilities -- for 1,900 acres of industrial park space already has been completed or is in the works, he said.
Part of that development has come from more than $250 million in state capital funding for the county over the last two years.
In January, county officials attended a ground-breaking ceremony at the 240-acre Clinton Commerce Park at Route 60 and Clinton Road.
The Buncher Co. already has an agreement with the county airport authority to build a 400,000-square-foot warehouse on the site.
"The airport corridor is going to be at the center of the county's turnaround," Mr. Onorato said.
The airport has seen a significant turnaround itself, following years of uncertainty because of US Airways' economic troubles.
The airline has merged with America West and has escaped from bankruptcy, although it now offers fewer than 200 flights a day out of Pittsburgh. Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines has moved in to fill some of that gap.
With the offer of cheaper flights, more travelers are starting their trips in Pittsburgh instead of heading to airports in Cleveland or Columbus, Mr. Onorato said.
His priority now is getting direct flights from Pittsburgh to Europe.
Another recent boost for the airport came last summer, when the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended keeping eight C-130 cargo planes at the 911th Military Airlift Wing. It also proposed expanding the base into a regional "readiness" center that could respond to terrorist attacks or other major incidents.
Mr. Onorato said a team of planners, including county officials and medical personnel from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is putting together a formal proposal before seeking state and federal funding.
"We want to have a readiness center that can respond anywhere in United States," he said.
Mr. Onorato also said state officials had assured him that work will move ahead on the 6.2-mile Findlay Connector between the airport and Route 22 in Robinson, Washington County, even though the Pennsylvania Turnpike Com- mission recently said that a contractor involved with the project is in default and not working.
The new highway is due to open this summer.