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Networking is key to funding, Brewster advises trail corporation retreat

Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review - State Sen. James Brewster and Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey spoke about federal and state funding at the Regional Trail Corporation's annual retreat.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Steph Chambers  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>State Sen. James Brewster and Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey spoke about federal and state funding at the Regional Trail Corporation's annual retreat.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review - State Sen. James Brewster addresses members of The Regional Trail Corp. during a meeting about federal and state funding for trails on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 at the Bishop Connare Center in Hempfield Township. Brewster said the transportation bill– $2.4 billion within five years – will go toward maintaining roads, repairing bridges and supporting mass transit systems. 'The essence of the bill is that there was nothing of transportation missed.'
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Steph Chambers  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>State Sen. James Brewster addresses members of The Regional Trail Corp. during a meeting about federal and state funding for trails on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 at the Bishop Connare Center in Hempfield Township. Brewster said the transportation bill– $2.4 billion within five years – will go toward maintaining roads, repairing bridges and supporting mass transit systems. 'The essence of the bill is that there was nothing of transportation missed.'

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Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, 3:41 a.m.
 

State Sen. James Brewster told a gathering of Southwestern Pennsylvania trail officials in Greensburg on Saturday that networking with their counterparts from other corners of the state might be the best approach to securing limited budget allocations for bicycle trails.

Brewster discussed aspects of a five-year transportation bill approved last fall that will generate $2.3 billion by increasing gasoline taxes. He said about $2 million annually will be put aside for trail spending.

The senator told the Regional Trail Corporation's annual retreat that a consolidated approach from trail statewide interests might be the best approach to prioritizing how state funds are spent.

“Obviously there's trails in Philly, Harrisburg, Lancaster, the Poconos and Erie,” Brewster said. “It probably wouldn't hurt for your leadership to network with them because the grants will be accepted on their merit. So you, in effect, will be competing with each other.

“If someone can make the case in Harrisburg that there is a need for a big chunk of money, others may just back off on their requests, knowing its for the good of the cause.”

Some noted there already is some formal networking in place between trail groups at the state level. Brewster said there always could be more.

“I'd be calling my counterparts from across the state and saying we should get together and talk,” he said.

Brewster told trail leaders they have stiff competition in Harrisburg from other interest groups and their lobbyists.

“You have to speak for yourself. You have to be organized and network and let them know you're a big organization that affects an awful lot of people,” he said.

Though transportation money for trails hasn't yet been allocated, the senator said he believes there will be adequate money for trail maintenance projects, but funding for new trail development may be tighter.

He noted that the transportation budget can be amended when the situation calls for it and there are grant opportunities available from other state departments.

About fifty trail leaders attended the daylong retreat at the Bishop Connare Center. Trail maintenance, mapping and historic preservation were among the subjects of group discussions.

Trail Town program manager Will Prince reported that West Newton along the Great Allegheny Passage recently became eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. That, he said, could create trail development opportunities through access to various grants and tax credits.

Westmoreland Heritage Trail chairman Tom Dittman reported on progress his organization is making to expand its footprint by nine miles between Export and Trafford by purchasing a rail right-of-way from Dura-Bond Industries.

Dittman said railroad ties and rails are expected to be removed from the trail this summer.

Roy Weil and Mary Shaw of the Trail volunteer Fund at the Pittsburgh Foundation told trail leaders their organization could help them obtain grants to get tools, materials and supplies for projects.

Weil said no worthwhile idea should flounder for want of volunteers and equipment.

Joyce MacGregor of the McKeesport Trail Commission said it's looking to be another good year for cycling. She said there are plans underway for another McKeesport Grand Prix bicycle road race this spring and that her organization will host its fundraising car cruise along the trail again this fall.

MacGregor noted that, starting March 3, the city's trail commission will meet on the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Puzzlers Restaurant & Lounge next to the Great Allegheny Passage in McKeesport.

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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