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Grant funds to benefit county

| Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 11:21 p.m.

More than rail cars carrying freight and passengers aboard airplanes in Westmoreland County will benefit from $3.1 million approved by the state as part of $26.1 million given out across Pennsylvania this week.

Among 13 rail and 10 aviation grants, the state Transportation Committee approved $2 million for Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity and $1.1 million to Three Rivers Marine and Rail Terminals in Rostraver after assessing county transportation to ensure safety and expand business operations.

“It's important that the state is able to participate, to invest in these industries, because it pays dividends to the taxpayers and the economy,” said PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt.

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which runs Arnold Palmer Regional Airport and Rostraver Airport, plans to use the money for the first phase of an addition to the terminal building.

A $30 million to $35 million expansion will play a major role in developing a master plan to outline long-term planning goals, said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the authority.

“It'll be a great boost to us to help us move along with our plans,” he said.

The authority started work this summer on the master plan, last updated 20 years ago, when the board envisioned the Unity airport as a commuter hub to Pittsburgh.

“We didn't dream we'd be having flights to Dallas, Florida. ... We've leapfrogged that, and we're no longer a commuter airport but a destination airport,” authority Chairman Don Rossi said.

The airport tallied 227,580 passengers this year, and 438,249 since Spirit Airlines started commercial service there in February 2011. This summer, the carrier added Dallas-Fort Worth to the flights already ferrying passengers to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and seasonally to Myrtle Beach.

Transportation improvements — be it air, rail or other means — benefit the economy of the entire county, said Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland Industrial Development Authority.

“It's something we strongly support to increase Westmoreland County's competition in terms of attracting businesses,” he said, adding that infrastructure improvements can in particular encourage continued growth in industries such as natural gas exploration.

Airport authority officials hope to have the master plan approved within the next year, said Rossi, adding the funding is an opportunity for continued growth in the region.

“It's a great Christmas present for the county,” he said.

At Three Rivers Marine and Rail Terminals, Southwestern Pennsylvania provides the perfect natural distribution center with its rivers, rails and roads, said Scott Turer, chief financial officer.

The company, which transfers and loads bulk commodities — coal, salt, sand and steel — has direct rail connections with CSX and Wheeling & Lake Erie railroads. It plans to use the funds to build 8,000 feet of track and three switches to enhance storage tracks from the main line.

This will enable the company to handle more coal and sand for gas drilling operations.

“We're planning on increasing the activity here at the terminal, which will cause us to be a big player in the distributing business,” he said, adding that the company could begin work in the spring and eventually add jobs.

The company owns the property, so work could begin as soon as contracting plans are finalized.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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