Biking: Passage segment through Sandcastle reaches final agreement
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A portable wooden triangle-shaped bike rack was placed near the front door of TGI Friday's restaurant when it opened in 2000 at the Waterfront.
"The bike trail's coming up from Pittsburgh," the manager on duty told me at the time, referring to the Great Allegheny Passage. "We want the cyclists to feel welcome."
A decade later, trail users have been told that, if all goes as planned, they officially would be welcome to use -- probably late next year -- an .85 mile long segment of the passage that will go through Sandcastle waterpark in West Homestead.
Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Sandcastle general manager Damian Dondero signed a ceremonial easement agreement at the waterpark last Tuesday attended by state and local officials and trail supporters, a number of whom arrived on bikes.
The county has negotiated with 18 individual property owners for easements or ownership of 28 separate parcels between McKeesport and Sandcastle. One of the most important easements was with the CSX Corporation.
"This is a transformational moment for our region, both economically and recreationally," said Onorato, adding that Nov. 11, 2011, is the completion date for all segments of the passage that runs through the county.
"Sandcastle is excited to see this project reach a final agreement and become a reality," Dondero said. "We're looking forward to seeing families and children enjoying the trail."
Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance that is helping to build and maintain the passage, predicted the trail will open "a tremendous new market for Sandcastle."
Although the destination of the bicyclists pedaling through the waterpark might be as close as the park itself or as distant as Washington, D.C., most are expected to travel along the Pittsburgh to McKeesport corridor. That 16-mile section, which includes some uncompleted sections, goes through Homestead, West Homestead, Munhall, Whitaker, West Mifflin and Duquesne.
The waterpark segment of the passage will begin near Costco in the Waterfront development, follow Sandcastle Drive into the waterpark, go under a railroad bridge and the Glenwood Bridge and connect to the completed section of the trail that comes up from the South Side.
The new segment will be 8 feet wide, paved and bordered by fencing. The portion of the trail that runs under the railroad bridge will be narrower to get around its concrete pier.
Onorato said the county will begin "full engineering and design work with Sandcastle immediately" and expects construction to begin this winter, weather permitting, and continue to May.
Work will be suspended from Memorial Day, when the waterpark opens, until it closes for the season on Labor Day. Because work remains to be done between Pittsburgh and Duquesne, most bicyclists use the McKeesport or Boston trailheads to begin or end their trip to or from Washington, D.C.
When completed, bicyclists will be able to ride 150 miles from milepost 0.0 at the fountain in Point State Park to Cumberland, Md., where the passage joins the C&O Canal Towpath for a 184.5 mile journey to the nation's capital.
Veteran bicyclists Mary Shaw and Roy Weil of Squirrel Hill, authors of "FreeWheeling Easy in Western Pennsylvania" and "Linking Up: Planning Your Traffic-Free Bike Trip between Pittsburgh, Pa, and Washington, D.C.," said riders want to start or end their trip at milepost 0.0 in Point State Park.
"They want to be able to say they rode their bikes all the way," said Weil, who has led numerous trips between the two cities with his wife.
Shaw said cyclists can generate their own certificate of completion at www.yockatomac.org.
"They've earned it," she said.
For more information, go to www.gaptrail.org
First Published October 26, 2010 12:00 am