Harrison gets grant for safety improvements to its section of Three Rivers Heritage Trail
Robin Bergstrom always had a vision of getting fitness-minded people safely around Harrison.
The township commissioner is closing in on that goal.
Bergstrom, in November, landed a $50,000 grant through the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County's Active Allegheny Program.
She plans to use it to design upgrades to Harrison's section of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to make it safer for commuters.
Active Allegheny grants are designed to provide assistance to communities to help them develop plans and design transportation projects that increase opportunities for physical activity and provide bicycle and pedestrian connections to local destinations.
Harrison is one of the first municipalities to receive a grant from the program, which is only a year old.
Harrison's designated trail is passable but not really safe, Bergstrom said. She has concerns about traffic and people walking, biking and using wheelchairs along sections of roadway that don't have sidewalks.
“There's so many people right now that walk to Wal-Mart plaza, but there's no sidewalks so they're walking on the street, or they're walking on the curb at some points and kind of doing a tight-rope act,” she said. “I'm a biker myself, so I always wanted it to be as safe as it could for other people to get around.”
Harrison's designated sections of the trail encompass sections of Broadview Boulevard, Freeport Road and River Avenue. Those areas will be the focus points of the project.
Some of the proposed upgrades include handicapped-accessible traffic intersections, adding sidewalks where there aren't any and implementing trail designation signage.
Also under discussion is whether one lane of Springhill Road, which connects Freeport Road in Natrona Heights to the township's Natrona section, can be transformed into a bike lane.
“This has been something I've been thinking about for a while,” Bergstrom said.
Bergstrom is sending out design proposals for the project, which will be done in these three phases:
• Broadview Boulevard and continue through the Heights Plaza Shopping Center and Alsco Park.
• Freeport Road to the Wal-Mart Plaza and Harrison Hills Park.
• River Avenue through Natrona.
River Avenue will need to be connected to the two sections via Springhill Road, which intersects with McWilliams Drive at Alsco Park.
Bergstrom said the trail along River Avenue will be the most difficult to upgrade.
On one side, there is the ATI Flat-Rolled Products steel mill and River Avenue. On the other, there are steep banks along the Allegheny River.
There will be a need for construction in that area, Bergstrom said, but at this time she is “not sure what to do with it.”
“It's a challenge,” she said.
Along Freeport Road at the Wal-Mart plaza, Bergstrom has witnessed people using wheelchairs, pushing strollers, and walking and biking along one lane of the road because there aren't sidewalks.
She has seen pedestrians and bicyclists moving similarly on Springhill Road.
“Someone's going to get hit,” Bergstrom said.
She plans to meet with residents and township officials to get their input on the designs. She hopes to complete a conceptual design by July, and a detailed design within six months after that. The township will be applying for subsequent grants for the detailed design and implementation of the upgrades.
If those grants are approved, construction could start by as early as summer or fall 2018.
“We're real excited,” Bergstrom said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to make the town look good and to provide some healthy options for people, too.”
Safety, health, opportunity
The goal of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail is to connect Downtown Pittsburgh to Harrison Hills Park, but some parts aren't completed. Upgrades to Harrison's part of the trail will help toward that goal.
Upgrading Harrison's section of the trail could draw the attention of more serious bikers because the Allegheny County park offers passage to the Rachel Carson Trail, the Tredway Trail and Freeport-Butler Trail.
Though the main goal of the upgrades is to make the township safer and healthier, Bergstrom said there could be some economic benefits.
“We definitely think it would help the town ... especially down in the Natrona area, where you have the riverfront,” Bergstrom said. “We have a kayak launch, we have a beautiful park down there, we have a dam there where there's fishing.
“If people could bike up and they could fish, they could take their kids to the playground as a little stop-off and kind of have a nice little day.”
Bob Mulshine is president of the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, which is dedicated to the development, protection and promotion of hiking, biking and walking trails throughout Western Pennsylvania.
Mulshine said upgrades to Harrison's section of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail would be beneficial because people are more likely to bike if they have better access to trails.
“Freeport Road was upgraded a while back, but it didn't really get a nice shoulder or sidewalks along the side of it, so the main entry to the park is on a road that has fairly fast traveling traffic,” Mulshine said.
“Today's day and age, people are busy. If you can roll out of your garage (on your bicycle), you're an awful lot more likely to do that than if you have to get a bike rack put on your car ... drive with that someplace and then have to take it off.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.