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City Eyes Garage, Trail Improvements With $2.9M State Grant

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
October 02, 2018
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

The Lysle Boulevard parking garage could be reopened and connected to the former Daily News Building with the assistance of a $2.9 million grant from Pennsylvania's Multimodal Transportation Fund.

And city officials and state Sen. Jim Brewster have bigger plans --- like re-routing the Great Allegheny Passage trail to the edge of the Monongahela River, and possibly elevating a portion of it.

The state Department of Transportation on Tuesday announced the award of $2.9 million in funding to help rehabilitate the parking garage --- closed to the public for almost 20 years --- and improve the trail.

"Obviously, we've very excited," McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko said Tuesday night. The improvements to the garage and the trail have the potential to "jumpstart the Downtown area," he said.

Preliminary engineering work indicates that the parking garage, built in 1959 with a capacity for 440 cars, is reusable, Cherepko said.

Under one proposal being considered by city officials, the garage would be connected via a skywalk to the second-floor of the Daily News Building, which has been renamed the McKeesport Multimedia Center.

The Daily News Building, which is now owned by the city and managed by its redevelopment authority, is currently being renovated for a variety of tenants, including Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., Point Park University's Center for Media Innovation and a fire-equipment company.

The first tenants are likely to move into the building in October, Brewster said.

Parking garage would serve trail, transit center

Cherepko and Brewster also envision the Lysle Boulevard garage serving the nearby McKeesport Transportation Center.

In 2017, Port Authority of Allegheny County demolished the former bus and train station at the transportation center and added 36 spaces to an existing park-and-ride lot, doubling its size.

But the expanded parking lot is already at or near capacity by 10 a.m. most weekday mornings.

The Lysle Boulevard garage, less than a block away, is positioned to serve additional Pittsburgh-bound commuters at minimal cost, said Brewster, a member of the Port Authority board.

He expects it also to be an asset to the RIDC Industrial Center of McKeesport and an attractive place for bikers using the trail to park their cars, Brewster said.

He called the multimodal project "partially tourism-driven but also industry-driven."

Brewster: Garage 'built like a fortress'

It may be prudent to renovate only two or three floors at first, Brewster said.

Initial estimates for reopening the garage start at $500,000, he said, but tearing it down to create a surface parking lot has been estimated to cost $1 million or more.

"The garage is built like a fortress," Brewster said. The garage was closed to the public in 1999 when pieces of the concrete deck began falling onto parked cars. Brewster, who was on McKeesport city council at the time and later served as mayor, said the damage is mostly on the surface, not in the structure.

A detailed analysis and plan for rehabiitating the structure will be necessary before the city can make any predictions about when the garage might reopen to cars, Cherepko said.

"We need a better idea of how much it would cost, and how long (repairs) would last," he said. "We need to make sure we're not investing in a five- or 10-year fix. We need to be looking at 15 or 20 years, or longer."

Elevated bike trail? It could happen

The garage repairs seem fairly down to earth, but the possible elevation of a portion of the trail seems downright futuristic. Brewster thinks it's achievable.

Since 2008, trail riders have crossed into McKeesport from Duquesne over the former Pennsylvania Railroad bridge, and then descend to street level on a ramp.

Brewster is proposing that instead of descending, they continue at the same height on an elevated bikeway along the Monongahela River, behind PurePenn, through the RIDC industrial park, and behind the Dura-Bond pipe mill, until touching down near the mouth of the Youghiogheny River.

The new bike trail would then join up with the existing trail near the McKees Point Marina.

Scenic attraction and business benefits

Elevated bike trails have been constructed in the Netherlands and China, and have been proposed in cities in England and Australia. In the United States, Chicago has converted an old elevated railroad line into a bike trail, and Dayton, Ohio, is considering a similar move.

Raising the bike trail above ground level would provide McKeesport with a scenic attraction for cyclists, get bikes and hikers away from truck and railroad traffic, and ensure unhindered access to the river, Brewster said.

"It's not just for aesthetic reasons," Cherepko said. "We want to make sure we don't hinder any future businesses that might want to relocate into RIDC."

Cyclists using the Great Allegheny Passage through McKeesport must walk their bikes across the railroad tracks at Center Street, and then use this narrow alley behind the Lysle Boulevard garage, the former Daily News and the former municipal building. (Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

It has always been the city's intention to re-route the bike trail anyway, Cherepko said.

Riders currently use surface streets through the RIDC park, cross the railroad tracks at Locust Street, and rejoin the trail behind the Lysle Boulevard parking garage, the former Daily News Building and the police and fire station.

Long-term plans to move the trail to the river's edge were resisted by U.S. Steel, which owned the land at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers.

Dura-Bond, which purchased the former electric-resistance weld pipe mill from U.S. Steel and has reopened it, is receptive to relocating the bike trail, Cherepko and Brewster said.

Relocating the surface trail isn't inexpensive, Brewster said, so why not investigate the cost of an elevated bikeway?

"I'm excited about it," Cherepko said. "I can't wait to find out more about it, without question. And we're extremely grateful to Sen. Brewster and Gov. (Tom) Wolf for helping to make this a reality."

Jason Togyer is the volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. You can reach him at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published October 02, 2018.

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