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Work begins on final connection for Great Allegheny Passage

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 1:17 a.m.
A groundbreaking ceremony took place for the last mile of the Great Allegheny Passage at Sandcastle Waterpark in Homestead Friday, October 12, 2012. Heidi Murrin  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
A groundbreaking ceremony took place for the last mile of the Great Allegheny Passage at Sandcastle Waterpark in Homestead Friday, October 12, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald jumps down from a front end loader after moving some gravel, part of the final mile of the Great Allegheny Passage at Sandcastle Waterpark Friday, October 12, 2012.  A groundbreaking ceremony took place there.  Heidi Murrin  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald jumps down from a front end loader after moving some gravel, part of the final mile of the Great Allegheny Passage at Sandcastle Waterpark Friday, October 12, 2012. A groundbreaking ceremony took place there. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
A groundbreaking ceremony took place for the last mile of the Great Allegheny Passage at Sandcastle Waterpark in Homestead Friday, October 12, 2012. Heidi Murrin  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
A groundbreaking ceremony took place for the last mile of the Great Allegheny Passage at Sandcastle Waterpark in Homestead Friday, October 12, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With passing trains, a busy scrap yard and traffic on the Glenwood Bridge overhead, supporters and officials affiliated with the Great Allegheny Passage on Friday celebrated the start of work on the final leg of the bicycle trail from Pittsburgh to our nation's capital.

It was hailed as a ground-breaking ceremony even though some construction work already has begun on segments of the trail at Sandcastle water park in West Homestead.

Work soon will begin on a portion of the trail that passes through properties owned by Keystone Iron and Metal scrap yard and Peter J. Caruso & Sons Inc. asphalting.

Trail planners say these final segments connecting the Three Rivers Heritage Trail from Pittsburgh to the Steel Valley Trail will cost about $3.5 million to complete and should be finished by April 15.

“Today we are finally ready to build some trail at Sandcastle,” said Allegheny Trail Alliance president Linda McKenna Boxx. “We are finally getting close to the end.”

Boxx recognized numerous supporters of the trail in attendance, including trail council members from Maryland, Somerset County and elsewhere in the Mon-Yough region, noting, “Our volunteers give the trail its heart and character.”

Foundations, private donors, local and state agencies and numerous engineering and construction firms that have helped to develop the trail over the span of more than a quarter of a century were recognized.

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy recalled his efforts negotiating with the Steelers and UPMC to create an agreement that facilitated the development of the trail along the Monongahela River on the South Side.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the trail is internationally recognized and does much to make the region attractive to young people who care about alternative modes of transportation. The completed trail, he said, “will bring literally millions of dollars” to the area — about $100 million in tourism dollars, according to Boxx's estimate.

The cost of developing the final mile-long segment is high in comparison to other portions of the trail built in more rural areas, officials said, though Regional Trail Corp. project manager Jack Paulik said it could have been priced prohibitively higher had Keystone Iron and Caruso asphalting not allowed an easement for the trail on their properties.

Paulik said an earlier plan would have put the trail between their properties and a bordering rail line would have cost $7 million to $11 million to build. Thanks to an agreement with the owners of the companies, Paulik said the 1,400-foot segment only should cost around $1.5 million and will give trail riders about 60-70 feet of clearance between the trail and the railroad tracks.

Officials the both companies were recognized for their cooperation.

Dennis Thompson, whose family owns Keystone, said, “We appreciate the value of the project.”

He said his company was all for it once a plan was developed that would protect the safety of the businesses, the railroad and trail users.

Pat Lombardi, Caruso project manager, said he believes the trail is a good investment.

It was a sentiment shared by many.

Homestead Mayor Betty Esper said of the trail's pending completion, “I think we're all looking forward to it.”

The Sandcastle link will make it much easier for cyclists in Pittsburgh to reach the Steel Valley Trail, which already is complete in Homestead.

“Whenever you have people in town,” noted Esper, “they're going to spend money.”

William Prince, a coordinator for the passage's Trail Town Program, said the completed section into Pittsburgh will bring more tourists into communities farther south along the trail.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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