A 335-mile biking/hiking trail that will connect Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., moved one mile closer to completion yesterday but took a far bigger leap forward with the announcement of an agreement for future construction.
Dignitaries snipped the ribbon on a one-mile section of the Great Allegheny Passage in Duquesne, from the Riverton Bridge through Regional Industrial Development Corp.'s Riverplace City Center to Grant Avenue, a stretch that includes a 60-foot tunnel.
Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato also announced an agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway that will clear the way for completion of another 2.5 miles by next summer, from Duquesne to the Waterfront shopping complex.
That will leave one incomplete section, less than a mile, through Sandcastle Waterpark. Years of negotiations with the park's owners have failed to produce an agreement, but Mr. Onorato's spokesman, Kevin Evanto, said yesterday that "both sides are optimistic that we are going to be able to reach an agreement to get the trail through."
"We're almost there," Mr. Onorato said, "and we'll continue working hard to get it done."
The agreement with Norfolk Southern makes possible construction of two bicycle-pedestrian bridges: one connecting the RIDC section of the trail to the former U.S. Steel coke gas pipeline area behind Kennywood, by crossing Norfolk Southern's Port Perry rail yard; and another over Norfolk Southern tracks to connect the trail to a portion of the county's Carrie Furnace site on the south side of the Monongahela River in Whitaker.
From there, the trail will connect to the Waterfront in Munhall.
The bridge at Whitaker will be privately funded; the other with a mix of private and state funds, Mr. Evanto said. Estimated costs are not being divulged until construction bids are received, he said.
That section should be open by early summer, he said.
Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, said the bridges will enable trail users to avoid Route 837, a perilous road for bicycling.
"We had thought that wasn't going to happen," she said.
"Today's opening was huge. It's just one mile but it's one more mile," Ms. Boxx said. "The end is in sight."
Improvements also are planned in coming months for short stretches of trail that share roads with vehicular traffic in and around McKeesport, she said.
The Riverton Bridge is a 1,200-foot span that crosses the Monongahela River between McKeesport and Duquesne. U.S. Steel transferred ownership of the former railroad bridge to Allegheny County in September 2008, and it was converted for pedestrian and bike usage. It opened to trail users in October 2008.
The steel company also made another key contribution in 2007, removing a former coke gas pipeline in West Mifflin and Duquesne and transferring 1.9 miles to the Regional Trail Corp.
Mr. Onorato yesterday set a goal of finishing the trail by November 2011.
"This trail is improving the economy and quality of life in towns throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, and we're excited to extend its recreational and economic benefits into Duquesne," he said.
Jon Schmitz can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1868.