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Ohiopyle pedestrian tunnel, other projects to move forward

Renatta Signorini
| Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, 7:48 a.m.
Edgewood resident Shannon Tressler walks with her daughter Frankie, 4, while Tressler’s husband, Mike, carries their 8-month-old daughter Indie on Friday along Meadow Run in Ohiopyle State Park.
Edgewood resident Shannon Tressler walks with her daughter Frankie, 4, while Tressler’s husband, Mike, carries their 8-month-old daughter Indie on Friday along Meadow Run in Ohiopyle State Park.
A planned pedestrian tunnel near the intersection of Route 381 and Sugarloaf Road would connect a parking lot with the river side of Route 381.
A planned pedestrian tunnel near the intersection of Route 381 and Sugarloaf Road would connect a parking lot with the river side of Route 381.
Pedestrians make their way across Rt. 381 towards the water in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
Pedestrians make their way across Rt. 381 towards the water in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
A bicyclist rides across the pedestrian bridge over the river in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
A bicyclist rides across the pedestrian bridge over the river in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
A bicyclist crosses the river along Rt. 381 in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
A bicyclist crosses the river along Rt. 381 in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
Taking advantage of the warm weather, a couple cools off in the water in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
Taking advantage of the warm weather, a couple cools off in the water in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
A car makes its way along Rt. 381 past Sugarloaf Road in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
A car makes its way along Rt. 381 past Sugarloaf Road in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
Changes are proposed for the current bike lane along Rt. 381 at the intersection with Sherman St. in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.
Changes are proposed for the current bike lane along Rt. 381 at the intersection with Sherman St. in Ohiopyle, on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.

PennDOT plans to forge ahead with plans to build a pedestrian tunnel in Ohiopyle, despite opposition during a February public meeting .

Construction for the “super unique” project, which includes several other improvements in the Fayette County town, is expected to begin this year, said Joe Szczur, district executive of PennDOT District 12-0, which encompasses Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

“It’s inherent on us … that we’re going to look at it from a safety-first standpoint,” Szczur said.

PennDOT will seek bids next month for the multi-year project expected to cost $10 million to $15 million. The Youghiogheny River town sees 1.3 million visitors annually to Ohiopyle State Park. Officials want to improve pedestrian safety on the main thoroughfare through town while addressing parking and drainage issues near Sugarloaf Road and the park visitors center.

About 150 people attended the February meeting. Some called the tunnel a “waste of money” that park visitors would not use.

The underpass is proposed just north of the Sugarloaf Road intersection with Route 381. It would connect a parking lot with the river side of the two-lane road, where the visitors center and overlook for the falls are located, as well as access to the river. Sugarloaf Road would be relocated to make room for a large parking lot for boaters.

“We know from being in the business that this is the safest way” for pedestrians not to cross in front of traffic, Szczur said.

Liz McCarty, general manager of Laurel Highlands River Tours and Outdoor Center, said she was happy with some of the changes designers made after the February meeting to the pedestrian tunnel and a sidewalk leading up to it. The outfitter is near where the proposed tunnel will be located.

“We think it’s going to be a great improvement to the town,” she said.

In addition to the tunnel, the superstructure of a bridge carrying Route 381 over the river will be replaced.

Transportation officials have been working on the project for a couple of years but made some adjustments after the meeting, including:

• the addition of raft inflation stations, grassy areas and vehicle charging stations to the boaters parking lot.

• replacement of an outdated changing house in the lot.

• redesigned stairs and sidewalk leading to the tunnel.

• recessed lighting in the tunnel.

Under a “very aggressive schedule,” construction on the first phase — mainly the bridge over the river — will get under way immediately after the project is awarded and extend through Memorial Day, Szczur said. No work will occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day next year. Work on the pedestrian tunnel will begin in September 2019.

“We’re going to be working some long hours out there,” Szczur said.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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