|Contact:||Kevin Evanto, County|
MUNHALL, Pa. – Allegheny County, Allegheny Trail Alliance, and Steel Valley Trail Council representatives today raised a ceremonial railroad crossing gate and officially opened a three-mile section 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 will create a 335-mile traffic-free, non-motorized 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.
“The opening of these two bridges and connecting trail segments marks two significant milestones in completing the Great Allegheny Passage, said Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. “First, this part of the trail was the most difficult to complete in Allegheny County due to the active rail lines and numerous property owners. Second, it means that we are literally in the home stretch of finishing the entire 335-mile trail from Downtown Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Less than one mile remains, and we are working hard to get it completed.”
The new three-mile section runs from Grant Avenue in Duquesne to a new 110-foot-long, 37-ton bridge that crosses Norfolk Southern’s Port Perry rail yard and connects to the southern end of the former U.S. Steel coke gas pipeline. A second new bridge, which is 170 feet long and weighs 62 tons, crosses six sets of tracks operated by Norfolk Southern and Union Railroad Company. The second span connects 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.
Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, predicts that this will be one of the most popular sections of the Great Allegheny Passage.
“There have already been hundreds of people on the trail since we informally opened it a week ago,” said Boxx. “It will be used for recreation, but also by people who work at the Waterfront or the RIDC parks for commuting to work or going out for lunch. This was by far the most complicated piece of trail in our 30-year history of trail building, and we are thrilled with the results. We worked with dozens of partners to get this done, and we appreciate their support and help.”
In October 2010, Onorato announced that the County had signed easement agreements with Sandcastle Waterpark and CSX Corporation that will enable completion of the final 0.85-mile section of the Great Allegheny Passage. The final segment to be completed begins near Costco at the Waterfront in West Homestead. The trail alignment will follow Sandcastle Drive and pass under a railroad bridge and the Glenwood Bridge. There, it will connect to a trail segment now under development, and then connect to the existing South Side trail.
“In 2006, there were only nine miles of the Great Allegheny Passage left to be completed, and they were all in Allegheny County,” added 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, we are one step closer to completing this remarkable trail. 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.”
During the past five years, Allegheny County and trail organizations negotiated with 18 individual property owners for easements or ownership of 28 separate parcels between McKeesport and Pittsburgh. 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 site, easements from railroads, engineering services and appraisals. Allegheny County assumed ownership from U.S. Steel of the Riverton Railroad Bridge, a 1200-foot span that carries the Great Allegheny Passage across the Monongahela River between McKeesport and Duquesne. The County also assumed ownership of the two bridges on the section of trail that opened today. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, private foundations, and Allegheny Regional Asset District have provided $11.5 million toward completion of the Great Allegheny Passage.
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Development of the Great Allegheny Passage began in 1975. When completed, the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage will connect with the 185-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, Maryland, to create a 335-mile traffic- and motorized-vehicle-free route between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. The Montour Branch, when completed, will connect McKeesport to Pittsburgh International Airport and Coraopolis.
The trail has a packed crushed limestone surface for a smooth ride. Built mainly on abandoned rail beds, the trail is nearly level with the average grade of less than 1%. The steepest eastbound grade - 0.8% - is from Harnedsville to Markleton and Garrett to Deal. The steepest westbound grade is from Cumberland to Deal at 1.75%. Near the Big Savage Tunnel, the trail crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. From that point going east, the trail drops 1,754 feet in 24 miles to reach Cumberland, and going west, it drops 1,664 feet in 126 miles to reach Pittsburgh.
From Cumberland to Washington, D.C., the trail drop 625 feet to sea level on the C&O Canal towpath. The towpath is overall much less improved than the Great Allegheny Passage since it was built for mules and not railroads.
For additional information on the Great Allegheny Passage, visit www.gaptrail.org.