More than one-fourth of the $26.1 million in grants the state Transportation Commission approved recently will go toward rail and aviation projects affecting Washington County.
The commission Thursday OK’d $6.7 million in funding for work at Washington County Airport and for two rail projects serving Washington and Allegheny counties.
Of that, $2.6 million will go to the county airport for construction of a taxi lane and apron, and preparation of a hangar site and building of a hangar.
Allegheny Valley Railroad Co. will receive $1.3 million for track improvements between Bruceton (near Pleasant Hills) and Washington to allow heavier freight traffic to move more safely.
“This is the last piece of a multi-year project to rehabilitate lines across the Washington branch,” said Michael Filoni, vice president of sales and marketing at Carload Express, the Pittsburgh-based short-line railroad company that operates the 70-mile AVR and three other short-haul lines in Southwestern Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
Filoni said Monday that Carload leased the former CSX line in Washington County in late 2003 to add to its AVR subsidiary, which also provides freight service from north of Pittsburgh to the city.
He noted that CSX ceased operations west of Washington in 1985, adding that AVR has spent the past decade upgrading the track it leases.
With the latest round of funding, he said AVR will finally finish replacing all defective cross ties on the Washington line from Bruceton north to Pittsburgh. Other work will include ditching and brush-cutting, all of which will be completed in 2014.
The upgrades have been critical, Filoni said, noting that in addition to its base industrial customers that include Washington Penn Plastic, V-Bat Industries and International Paper, AVR has added customers among companies here that are part of the Marcellus Shale supply chain.
“We’ve seen a gradual climb back to pre-recession traffic levels,” he said.
Another $2.8 million is going to Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co. to remove deteriorated tracks, install about 13 miles of new tracks and other improvements between Allegheny and Washington counties.
Bill McGowen, executive director of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, is pleased with the amount being devoted to the airport.
“We applied for this several months ago and asked for $3 million,” he said. “But we’re very, very happy we got $2.6 (million). The pot (for aviation projects statewide) was only 10 million.”
McGowen said the commission’s approval requires a one-to-one match, meaning the Redevelopment Authority also must come up with $2.6 million. “That makes this a $5.2 million project,” he said.
“We’ll be working with the commissioners on funding, There are a number of possibilities. One is looking for a corporate partner that might want to build a hangar. A second piece would be possibly local share monies. We have to work on that.”
McGowen said the work is planned for the north side of the airport, slightly east of the Audia hangar.
“We are at a point where we need more hangar space, and this will allow us to generate that,” he said. “We are maxed out on hangar space for large and small airplanes.”
McGowen said he hopes to begin the process – design, engineering and enviornmental work – “as soon as we get the paperwork for the grant. We hope to start moving dirt in late 2014 or sooner.”