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Link to Great Allegheny Passage in county's plans

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Bikers and hikers who use the expanded Westmoreland County Heritage Trail could someday link to the Great Allegheny Passage for travel between Pittsburgh and the nation's capital.

County commissioners this week are expected to approve two financing components that will lay the groundwork for the potential purchase and conversion into trailways of a nearly 10-mile section of the former Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad line that runs through Trafford, Murrysville, Penn Township and Monroeville.

The final phase would cost $3 million, but commissioners said the county recreation department would pursue private financing, as it has done for many capital improvements such as the Peach Plaza Skate Park at Twin Lakes Park.

Plans call for the railroad line to be converted into a 9.8-mile path that would be part of the Heritage Trail.

“We'll challenge Allegheny County to tap this into the Great Allegheny Passage,” said Malcolm Sias, director of Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation.

The Great Allegheny Passage rail trail offers 150 miles of hiking and biking between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md., according to its website. In Cumberland, it joins the C&O Canal Towpath, forming a continuous 335-mile trail to Washington. In Pittsburgh, the final stretch was completed this summer between Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood and West Homestead.

The GAP trail is part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail system. Westmoreland County's project is not directly linked to a national trail system.

Sias said the proposed path is part of the heritage trail system that would link Allegheny County to Indiana County.

Construction of the trail system started in 2003, with the first 5-mile stretch completed in 2008 to link Saltsburg in Indiana County to Slickville in Salem Township.

The second, 3.7-mile stretch, between Slickville and Delmont, will formally open on Oct. 5.

Sias said the county envisions opening the final 9.8-mile portion of the system — from Delmont to Monroeville — in about two years.

“We've been working on it for 10 years. This is very exciting. It's a fantastic opportunity. Imagine if you can connect to the Allegheny Passage and the Indiana system,” Sias said.

County commissioners on Thursday will vote to apply for a $250,000 state grant to pay a portion of the $1 million price tag for preliminary engineering of the trail.

Commissioners are expected to authorize negotiations with the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. to purchase an easement along the rail line for the trail. That purchase could total as much as $865,000, commissioners said.

Sias said the entire final phase of the trail project is expected to cost about $3 million, but officials said little, if any, money from the county's budget will be used.

“We have two years to find the money,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

Most of the money is expected to be raised from private donors, he said.

“There is a great demand for trails in the county, and it would be just another link to a great system,” Kopas said.

Commissioner Charles Anderson said private funding is not unusual for the county park system and the bike trail network.

“Of about $3.2 million spent on the parks, only $70,000 is from the county. The rest is from the community,” Anderson said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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