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Indiana County pursues funding for pedestrian bridge

| Friday, July 18, 2014, 5:51 p.m.

Indiana County's commissioners are continuing their support for a proposed bridge that would provide pedestrians and bicyclists a safer way to cross Route 22 in Burrell Township.

At their July 9 meeting, the commissioners authorized the county Office of Planning and Development to apply for a $159,500 state grant for the bridge through the Commonwealth Financing Authority's Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program, which is administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development. If awarded, the grant would be matched by a Community Recreation and Conservation Program grant that is also being sought, along with local support, to help cover design, engineering and administrative costs of the project.

The idea for the pedestrian bridge came about after an Indiana County Regional Trail Connectivity Study completed in 2011 revealed a need for walkers, joggers and bicyclists on the county's Hoodlebug Trail to safely cross Route 22 near the Route 119 interchange. The bridge would serve as an important link in the recently designated Trans Allegheny Trails Network. In addition to the Hoodlebug Trail, that network of 13 trails includes the West Penn and Westmoreland Heritage trails, both of which have trailheads in Saltsburg, the Blairsville Riverfront Trail, and the Ghost Town Trail that has trailheads in Black Lick and Dilltown.

The pedestrian span is also meant to provide a safe crossing to retail and eating establishments along the highway for those who work at a number of businesses at the Corporate Campus industrial park in Burrell Township, as well as the students and staff at the WyoTech automotive school there and at the nearby Blairsville public school campus.

The future of the automotive school is now uncertain, though, as its parent company, Corinthian Colleges, looks to sell several WyoTech campuses including the Burrell Township location.

The WyoTech sites are up for sale as part of Corinthian's plan to divest itself of its various for-profit schools in an agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Education. The agreement followed the department's imposition of a 21-day waiting period for Corinthian to draw down federal student aid after the department indicated Corinthian wasn't promptly providing detailed job placement data requested in regard to allegations that some of the company's campuses were reporting faulty placement data in marketing.

The commissioners, together with state Rep. Dave Reed and Sen. Don White, wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, imploring the federal Department of Education delegation to encourage continued cooperation with Corinthian Colleges “to achieve the goal of allowing for a smooth transition for the potential transfer of schools and avoid any disruption to students as they pursue their degrees and diplomas.”

“As the WyoTech campus in Blairsville has always been one of Corinthian's excelling institutions, we feel confident it wil be a desireable commodity to another private education provider,” the letter continued.

The letter also acknowledged the contributions WyoTech has made since it came to Burrell Township in 2002, both in area economic growth and in service to the surrounding communities.

“A lot of people took a lot of effort to try and work with WyoTech and Corinthian to ensure that it remains here,” said Byron Stauffer, executive director of the county Office of Planning and Development. He noted that the planning office would do anything it could to help in that regard.

Part of the WyoTech curriculum is teaching students to make a positive impact on the communities in which they live and work. According to WyoTech officials, students logged in over 14,860 volunteer hours over the last year, partnering with organizations such as the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Blairsville Community Development Authority, local churches and volunteer fire departments, the Indiana County Humane Society, Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity, among others.

“WyoTech is an important part of Indiana County,” commissioners Chairman Rod Ruddock said at the meeting. “It provides a service to our community, it provides a service to our region, and it provides a service to our country to a great extent on workforce skill development, making sure we get the right people in the right jobs.”

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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