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Old rail line from Trafford to Export could become trail

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Fundraising to buy the former Turtle Creek Industrial Railroad line for a rails-to-trails project from Trafford to Export has crossed the finish line.

The nonprofit Regional Trail Corp. is on pace to complete its purchase of 9.5 miles of the rail corridor from a subsidiary of Dura-Bond Industries in late September, said Jeffrey Richards, Westmoreland County parks planning coordinator.

A $130,000 grant from Allegheny County's redevelopment authority gave the group its last big push for the $1 million needed to buy the rail line and pay for the preliminary engineering and design of the trail.

Under the guidance of Westmoreland County parks employees, the group's Westmoreland Heritage Trail chapter members have been yearning for more than a decade to convert the rail line into a trail that also would go through parts of Monroeville, Penn Township and Murrysville.

Since December, organizers also received a $457,000 state grant and $500,000 in grants from two private foundations.

Westmoreland County officials also are pursuing a $1.85 million grant through PennDOT's Transportation Alternatives Program to pay for the first 3.8 miles of construction, Richards said.

The project likely will be broken into three or four phases, beginning in whichever community the work provides “the most bang for the buck,” he said.

“The approach here is we will have a shovel-ready project, and one that we will be ready to start construction on in fall 2016,” Richards said.

Allegheny County's contribution, approved on June 20, comes from its Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund.

Two years ago, the same fund provided $100,000 toward work to realign the Great Allegheny Passage trail through McKeesport.

“We thought it was a benefit to both Monroeville and Allegheny County and Export and Trafford and other communities in Westmoreland County,” said Bob Hurley, senior deputy director of economic development for Allegheny County.

“Exercise is exercise wherever you're getting on — our side of the trail or their side.”

Joggers and bikers already can go nearly nine miles east on the Westmoreland Heritage Trail from the Delmont area to Saltsburg.

Long-range goals include linking the Westmoreland Heritage Trail's western end in Trafford to the Great Allegheny Passage, which runs 150 miles between Cumberland, Md., and Pittsburgh.

When the trail opens in Monroeville, it will be the municipality's longest nature trail. It will extend 2.5 miles from a section of railway near Wendy's on Route 22 to B-Y Park in Trafford, said Paul Estok, Monroeville's parks and recreation director.

Neighborhood parks in Monroeville should help to enhance the trail, he said.

“We have some really good trail heads we could work with, down at bottom of Abers Creek Road and near Saunders Station Road,” Estok said.

For longtime supporters through the local trail chapter, reaching the funding goal is a little surreal.

Chapter members were considering planning a comedy night or two to help raise more money locally if the big grant from Allegheny County hadn't been awarded, Tom Dittman of Murrysville said.

“We started this in 2000 or 2001,” he said.

“It's pretty amazing we've gotten as far as we have. It feels like it's taken forever.”

Staff Writer Kyle Lawson contributed to this story.Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-871-2363 or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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