Within two years, planners hope to close a gap in a regional hiking and biking trail network by adding a new pedestrian bridge over Route 22 in Indiana County.
Project plans will be unveiled publicly Thursday at an event from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Blairsville High School cafeteria.
The bridge would be an important link, not just for Indiana County’s multi-trail system, but for a network of trails that stretch across several counties, from Ebensburg in the east to Delmont and Murrysville in the west, said Laurie Lafontaine, a longtime trail advocate who chairs the county planning commission.
“This was promoted as a key project for the regional trail network that is going on throughout the commonwealth,” Lafontaine said of the Route 22 pedestrian span.
The bridge would extend the southern end of the county’s Hoodlebug Trail, which stretches from the outskirts of Indiana south to Cornell Road in Burrell Township. It would provide trail users safe passage from Cornell, on the north side of Route 22, to a trailhead in a PennDOT Park-and-Ride lot on the other side of the highway.
“We’re very conscious of it being a gateway for the southern portion of the county,” Jeff Raykes, deputy director of the county office of planning and development, said of the bridge. “By putting a trail over a major highway, we’re identifying ourselves as a recreational destination, and we’re happy saying that.”
Raykes noted preliminary studies have begun to map out a dedicated route that the trail would follow from the Park and Ride into Blairsville Borough, where bicycle riders would share streets with motor vehicles to reach the town’s Riverfront Trail, which is maintained by the county parks department.
A state grant application is pending to fund a formal analysis of that proposed route, with the assistance of a consultant and engineer, Raykes said.
It’s a short distance on Route 217 and Newport Road in Burrell to a trailhead of the West Penn Trail, which provides bicyclists access to Saltsburg and points beyond in Westmoreland County.
The bridge project is budgeted at $2.9 million, with federal highway dollars and funding from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources covering much of the cost, according to Raykes.
There could be a $140,000 shortfall in funding, but Lafontaine is confident planners will come up with any additional money that is needed.
“The final construction (costs) have not been finalized,” Lafontaine said. “We have $200,000 in contingency funding in the budget. If we don’t have to use that, we should be good.”
Preliminary engineering of the bridge is near completion. Lafontaine said planners hope to complete a final design by April and construct the bridge by October 2019. PennDOT still must review and approve the plans.
The bridge’s main span of more than 150 feet would be supported by steel beams, with a concrete deck and protective fencing on either side and overhead. Since the bridge would rise about 20 feet above the highway, a switchback ramp would provide access on either end.
It would be similar to a pedestrian bridge that crosses over the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Donegal, said project engineer Nick Puzak of Gibson-Thomas Engineering.
The county’s initial trail development, the Ghost Town Trail, follows an abandoned rail corridor between the Burrell Township village of Black Lick, where it connects with the Hoodlebug, and the town of Nanty Glo in Cambria County. It has been listed among the nation’s top 10 such trails by the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
“It’s on the bucket list for a lot of people,” Lafontaine said.
The county trails attract up to 150,000 users annually, according to county statistics.
On the northern end of the trail system, officials with White Township, Indiana Borough and Indiana University of Pennsylvania have been pursuing a plan to extend the northern end of the Hoodlebug Trail, Raykes said.
The bridge would provide safe pedestrian access across Route 22 from the Corporate Campus industrial park and Blairsville’s K-12 school campus to retail, restaurant and health care facilities on the south side of the highway.
“It’s a highly dense land use with lots of people,” Raykes said of the industrial park. “Those people need to get places. Any time we can keep them on a bike, or on their feet, it reduces congestion, makes people healthier and makes the air cleaner.
“That’s the reason the county has prioritized bicycle and pedestrian connections.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter @jhimler_news.