SOUTH PARK – The last Montour Railroad train rattled across a towering trestle in Library 36 years ago, but by this time next year, pedestrians and bicyclists should be traveling over Route 88 traffic with ease.
The 506-foot-long span represents the “last significant gap” in the 47-mile rails-to-trails conversion between Coraopolis and Clairton, with spurs, said Dennis Pfeiffer, president of Montour Trail Council, and it will eliminate the need for walkers and cyclists to detour onto heavily traveled Route 88 and Brownsville Road.
At a groundbreaking ceremony in late May, a knot of helmeted bicyclists appeared on Route 88, as if on cue, and made their way uphill to the improved area of the trail near the Lindenbrook Apartments.
The project aims to make the trip a safer one so trail users will no longer be forced to share a two-lane road with cars, trucks and motorcycles.
And although the South Park Township website notes that the area, before 1833, was known as “Loafer’s Hollow,” it promises to be a beehive of activity, both during construction and once it becomes an area devoted to recreation. Because the bridge is 47 feet above Route 88, it’s likely that one will need a bee’s-eye view to monitor the work. Engineering costs and construction inspection have brought the total to $2.6 million.
Construction began late last month, and Route 88 motorists will be experiencing intermittent lane closures between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays for the next few weeks, according to Tom Prezel, project manager for the Library viaduct and vice president of Montour Trail Council.
Work is to be completed April 1 by Thornbury Inc. of West Sunbury, Butler County, low bidder for the contract.
WEC Engineers Inc. of Bridgeville, along with PennDOT, evaluated the viability of the viaduct in 2012. Despite the years of disuse, Pfeiffer said an inspection determined that the structure, which includes 20 steel columns, is sound.
“Most of its tightly grained Pittsburgh open-hearth steel is still in good condition,” Pfeiffer said. Built in 1918 to carry steam-powered locomotives hauling freight cars filled with coal across the Piney Fork valley, its rails will be replaced with a 12-foot-wide concrete deck. A wider observation area, similar to the one that overlooks Chartiers Creek in Peters Township, will stand above Piney Fork Creek.
“The federal funding came up a little short, so we had to dip into the Montour Trail funds to have enough money to complete this job,” Prezel said. “So we really appreciate the efforts of the Montour Trail Council.”
Nonetheless, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, was on-hand to remind those attending the groundbreaking that a grant of $1.5 million from federal taxpayers through the Department of Transportation was footing a large part of the bill for what he called “a linear park” in Washington and Allegheny counties.
State Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, said he played a small role with state taxpayers in contributing $243,000 “from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for a smart investment for our community to improve quality of life not only in Allegheny County but in Washington County.”
State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, saluted the volunteers for their efforts aiding economic development of the community.
Rehab of the bridge is one of two projects in Library.
East of the viaduct, construction by volunteers has also begun on a 900-foot connection to Pleasant Street near the Port Authority’s southernmost stop on the Library light-rail line known as the “T.” Montour Trail Council noted Peter Kohnke of Bethel Park, former president of the Montour Trail Council, purchased a former railroad right of way to make the connection possible. Its opening is planned to coincide with that of the Library viaduct. Earlier this year, Consol Energy signed an easement agreement with the Montour Trail Council that permits the trail to cross a 0.7-mile segment of the land in its South Park Research Facility, eliminating most of a detour on Brownsville Road. Montour Trail Council is seeking a DCNR grant to fund the construction of this section as early as next year.
“Trail users won’t be able to get through here until both are completed,” said David Oyler, project manager. He said that as of the May groundbreaking, 29 volunteers have worked on that stretch, devoting 400 hours of their time.
The Hillman and Colcom foundations have contributed a total of $225,000, with an amount from the Mellon Foundation to be determined.
Montour Trail Council also has partnered with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the Allegheny Trail Alliance, Allegheny County, South Park Township and private donors. The Montour Trail has no paid staff. About 1,000 members give more than $70,000 annually to support trail maintenance.