County officials seek funding for trail link from Trafford to Murrysville

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The next spoke of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail could be a nearly nine-mile stretch from Trafford to Murrysville if Westmoreland County officials can raise enough money to buy most of the Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad for a rails-to-trails project.

Already, the county is applying for two state grants to build a kitty for the purchase of 8.9 miles of the railroad from a subsidiary of Dura-Bond Industries, which informed a federal transportation agency last year that it was abandoning the rail line as part of a recreational trail project.

County officials estimate that this proposed third phase of the trail would cost $1.064 million for land acquisition and initial design.

The second phase – which will span 3.7 miles southwest from Route 819 in Slickville to Route 66 north of Delmont – is on schedule for a mid-August completion and Sept. 21 grand opening. The first five miles from Slickville to Saltsburg opened in 2008.

The county and Dura-Bond's subsidiary, the Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad Inc., have a draft agreement for a sale of the railroad property for about $865,000, said Jeff Richards, parks planning coordinator. After closing costs are factored in, it is expected to cost about $918,000.

The rail corridor that is for sale begins around the new Trafford Veterans Memorial Bridge that is under construction; runs near boundaries for B-Y Park in Trafford, Valley Park in Monroeville and Duff Park in Murrysville; and ends around Van Buren Street in Murrysville, close to the Rivertowne Brewery Co.

Richards said the rail path would provide both recreational “back-to-nature” settings and connections to downtowns that would enable users to stop for lunch or shopping.

“We see a great deal of enthusiasm for the project in Trafford and Murrysville and along the Turtle Creek greenway,” he said.

The railroad has a long history in the region that dates back to its charter in 1886 with backing from industrialist George Westinghouse. The rail service that began in 1891 was spurred by the need to transport supplies and equipment to gas fields in Murrysville after the world's first commercial gas well was tapped there, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad Inc. bought the rail line from Conrail in 1982 to provide service primarily for Dura-Bond, mostly to benefit its industrial plant in Export.

Last fall, the rail company informed the federal Surface Transportation Board that the railroad had not been in service since flooding washed out a “significant portion” of the track in 2009. The company plans to retain a small portion of the railroad in Export leading toward Dura-Bond, Richards said.

Wayne Norris, president of Dura-Bond, did not return messages requesting comment for this story.

County officials are working with the Regional Trail Corp. and Westmoreland Land Trust to accumulate money for the project.

A few months ago, the county applied for a $457,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Community Conservation Partnerships Program. The county also is seeking $250,000 through the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

The Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation Citizens Advisory Board already has committed to $35,000 in matching funds for the DCNR grant.

“We understand, informally, that they liked our submission,” Richards said of DCNR officials. “So, we're hoping by October or November that they'll have an announcement that we'll find to be favorable.”

Chuck Duritsa, president of the land trust board, said the rails-to-trails project fits with other efforts the trust has made to preserve green space near Duff Park. The trust already has acquired nine acres next to the park and is in negotiations for two pieces of land.

“It's prime for a bike trail,” said Duritsa, a former regional director of the state Department of Environmental Protection. “That's a beautiful area.”

Trafford Mayor Rey Peduzzi, 79, was involved in the planning for the heritage trail for a decade before resigning from a volunteer position last year. He said the development of a path leading to downtown could benefit the borough's revitalization plans.

“I might live long enough to see that happen, and that's my goal.”

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