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$17.5 million for steel heritage sought

Allegheny County officials are hoping the federal government will invest $17.5 million in a project to turn a former steelmaking site into a national heritage park and build a ramp at the Rankin Bridge to lead visitors to it.

The county, city of Pittsburgh, Port Authority and Port of Pittsburgh Commission are among agencies seeking a share of $600 million in transportation grants that would fund projects to reduce congestion, promote economic activity or improve livability.

At Carrie Furnace, the county wants to build a "flyover" ramp from the interchange at the foot of the Rankin Bridge to carry traffic above four railroad tracks that isolated the former steel mill.

"The (current) access is good for emergency vehicles and some other traffic, but it's over two sets of active railroad tracks, and you'd have to wind your way back there on a couple of little, local streets," said Bob Hurley, deputy director of the county's Department of Economic Development.

The county wants to redevelop 148 acres that once housed the blast furnaces along the Monongahela River in Rankin, part of the former U.S. Steel Homestead Works. The project would include homes, offices and light industry, along with a park commemorating the Mon Valley's industrial heritage, Hurley said.

The Homestead-based Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, which took over the furnaces, wants to offer public tours of the site to drum up support for a museum, said Sherris Moreira, director of marketing and tourism development. Built in 1907 of steel plate and brick, the Carrie Furnaces No. 6 and 7 tower 92 feet above the river as examples of pre-World War II iron-making technology. They are the only non-operative blast furnaces remaining in Pittsburgh. In the 1950s and '60s, they produced up to 1,250 tons of iron a day.

The county tried to get stimulus money for the project and did not; that application asked for $60 million and included a plan to convert an old bridge over the Mon for cars and pedestrians going to Route 837 and The Waterfront. Officials will still try to get money for the bridge, Hurley said.

The $600 million in transportation grants will be awarded in fall. Others seeking money:

• Port of Pittsburgh Commission, as a government partner for river industries. Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc. wants $44 million to add a coal storage area to its Alicia Docks near Brownsville, and Three Rivers Marine and Rail Terminal near Charleroi wants $1.5 million to upgrade railroad connections. The companies would invest matching money.

• The Port Authority of Allegheny County might reapply for money to start its "Better Bus" or "Rapid Bus" initiative, said spokesman Jim Ritchie. The authority plans to convert nine routes to "rapid bus" service that would have fewer stops, use ticket machines at bus stops instead of fare boxes on buses and get priority at traffic signals in order to make faster trips to Pittsburgh International Airport, Downtown, Oakland, the East End and the Mon Valley.

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