Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato today announced the County has signed easement agreements with Sandcastle Waterpark and CSX Corporation that will enable completion of the final 0.85-mile segment of the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile biking and hiking trail that connects with the 185-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, Md. Together, the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath create a 335-mile traffic- and motorized-vehicle-free route between Point State Park in Downtown Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. The trail travels through a scenic and historic corridor, roughly following early footpaths leading west from the tidal areas of Virginia.
“In 2006, there were only nine miles of the Great Allegheny Passage left to be completed, and they were all in Allegheny County,” said Onorato. “I pledged to trail groups and the residents of this region that we would do whatever it took to make this trail a reality. Today, I am thrilled to announce that completion of the Great Allegheny Passage is imminent. This is a transformational moment for our region, both economically and recreationally. This trail has been improving the economy and quality of life in towns throughout the Laurel Highlands and Southwestern Pennsylvania, and now its benefits will spread north through the Mon Valley and into the City of Pittsburgh.”
To mark the historic occasion, Onorato and Sandcastle General Manager Damian Dondero signed a ceremonial easement agreement at the waterpark in front of state and local officials, as well as trail advocates, hikers, bikers and other trail supporters.
“Sandcastle is excited to see this project reach a final agreement and become a reality,” said Sandcastle Waterpark General Manager Damian Dondero. “We want to continue to be good community partners and welcome this opportunity to have the bike trail completed.”
The final segment to be completed begins near Costco at the Waterfront shopping center in West Homestead. The trail alignment will follow Sandcastle Drive and be built between the road and CSX railroad tracks. The trail will pass under a railroad bridge and the Glenwood Bridge, where it will connect to trail segment now under development, and then connect to the existing South Side trail. The Sandcastle segment will be eight feet wide, but the trail will narrow as it passes under the railroad bridge. A fence will separate the trail from the railroad tracks.
Allegheny County will begin full engineering and design work with Sandcastle immediately and expects construction on the final segment to start this winter. Any unfinished work will be suspended in May and will resume after Sandcastle closes for the season in early September. All construction is slated to be completed by the County Executive’s goal of 11-11-11, or November 11, 2011.
There is currently no estimated cost for completing the final segment. However, Onorato anticipates funding will come from the foundation community, as well as a contribution from Allegheny County.
“On behalf of all trail advocates, I want to thank Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato for his commitment to the completion of this deal,” said Allegheny Trail Alliance President Linda Boxx. “This is fantastic news and it means our goal of finishing the trail by next November is achievable. It will also open a tremendous new market for Sandcastle.”
During the past four years, Allegheny County has negotiated with 18 individual property owners for easements or ownership of 28 separate parcels between McKeesport and Sandcastle. The County has provided $1.6 million toward completion of the Great Allegheny Passage, including construction of the portal tunnel in Duquesne, property on the Carrie Furnace, easements from railroads, engineering services and appraisals. The Commonwealth, foundations and Allegheny Regional Asset District have provided $8 million toward the effort.
In April 2007, U.S. Steel Corporation removed a former coke-oven gas pipeline in West Mifflin and Duquesne and transferred the 1.9 miles of property to the Regional Trail Corporation. In removing the former coke-oven gas pipeline, U. S. Steel completed much of the preparation work for trail development, such as addressing existing drainage issues and clearing the trail surface.
In September 2008, U.S. Steel Corporation transferred ownership of the Riverton Railroad Bridge to Allegheny County. The 1200-foot span, which carries the Great Allegheny Passage across the Monongahela River between McKeesport and Duquesne, was opened for pedestrian and bike use in October 2008. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources provided $1 million from Growing Greener II, a voter-approved $625-million bond issue, for conversion of the bridge to pedestrian and bike usage. The Colcom Foundation also provided $1 million for the bridge conversion project.
In October 2009, Onorato opened a mile-long length of the Great Allegheny Passage that includes a 60-foot tunnel. The segment runs from the Riverton Bridge through RIDC’s Riverplace City Center to Grant Avenue in Duquesne. The County Executive also announced a historic agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway for easements and property acquisitions that would enable construction of additional sections of the trail, including two bicycle/pedestrian bridges over active rail lines.
In July 2010, crews set the two bicycle/pedestrian bridges in place. The first bridge, a 110-foot-long, 37-ton span, will connect the RIDC section of the trail to the southern end of the former U.S. Steel coke gas pipeline by crossing Norfolk Southern’s Port Perry rail yard. Construction of the coke gas pipeline trail is underway and should be completed this winter. The segment of trail that runs from Grant Avenue in Duquesne to the Point Perry Bridge should be completed by spring.
The second bridge, which is 170 feet long and weighs 62 tons, crosses six sets of tracks operated by Norfolk Southern and Union Railroad Company. The span will connect the northern end of the coke gas pipeline trail to a portion of Allegheny County’s Carrie Furnace site on the south side of the Monongahela River in Whitaker. From there, the trail connects to the Waterfront in Munhall.