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Busy biking-walking path will move to water’s edge; work could begin in early 2023
Regional Industrial Development Corp. has donated 2.25 acres with a value of approximately $200,000 to the City of McKeesport for future relocation of a piece of trail that is part of the Great Allegheny Passage. The trail currently traverses through RIDC’s Industrial Center of McKeesport. (Submitted photo)
The owner of McKeesport’s industrial park has donated a right-of-way along the Monongahela River waterfront to allow for the re-routing of the Great Allegheny Passage biking-and-hiking trail to the mouth of the Youghiogheny River.
The donation of 2.25 acres, valued at $200,000, was announced this week by Regional Industrial Development Corp. It will enable trail users to see the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers while they also avoid the current, confusing routing that uses surface streets through the city’s Downtown business district.
“We’re in a unique opportunity here in that we have our own point” where the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers meet, said McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko.
“When we run the bike trail through there, it’s going to become a destination for cyclists,” he said. “Being able to ride around the point and tour our beautiful marina will really enhance the experience.”
Funding for re-routing the bike trail is being provided in part by a $2.9 million grant authorized in 2018 from the state’s Multimodal Transportation Fund. State Sen. Jim Brewster of McKeesport, who was instrumental in obtaining the grant funding for the city, said the new trail routing will be both safer and more scenic.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Brewster said. “It’s a different kind of trail. Some folks like bicycling through a more rural area. When you’re traveling across a city it’s a different set of challenges.”
Brewster also credited Jason Norris, president of Dura-Bond Industries Inc., with facilitating the extension of the trail to the Youghiogheny’s point. Dura-Bond, which operates the former U.S. Steel electric-resistance weld pipe mill at the end of Market Street, is granting the trail an easement to cross its property.
“We’re grateful to Sen. Jim Brewster and (state) Rep. Austin Davis for their steadfast support of riverfront amenity development in the Mon Valley,” said Timothy White, RIDC senior vice president of business development and strategy. “And to property occupants Dura-Bond and U.S. Steel for accommodating these trail realignment enhancements.”
According to a 2021 study by Andrew R. Herr, an associate professor of economics at Saint Vincent College, an estimated 1.5 million riders used the Great Allegheny Passage in 2020, including approximately 117,000 who traveled the entire length.
Allegheny County segments of the trail see the heaviest usage, he reported. During 2020, Herr reported, 94,000 riders passed a checkpoint at the Rankin Bridge and almost 41,000 passed a checkpoint at the Boston Bridge.
“The trail is a very popular destination point,” Brewster said. “You’re talking hundreds, if not thousands, of bikers using the trail every day.”
With the ongoing expansion of McKeesport-based medical marijuana provider Trulieve, formerly PurePenn, Brewster sees the chance for the trail and the industrial park to work hand-in-hand to attract new development.
“I see a lot of potential for attracting people for overnight stays,” he said. “I think Mike (Cherepko) has great vision and I think he realizes McKeesport needs a hotel to complement our industrial site down there.”
Cherepko said the city has had inquiries from restauranteurs and bike-rental companies, and that RIDC continues to market the former McKeesport Connecting Railroad roundhouse to potential investors.
The Great Allegheny Passage, which connects Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Md., currently travels from Duquesne to McKeesport via a former Pennsylvania Railroad bridge that once spanned the two U.S. Steel mill sites. The trail then uses surface roads to continue through the Downtown area.
Travelers must walk their bikes across the CSX railroad tracks at Locust Street, use a narrow alley behind the closed Lysle Boulevard parking garage and the McKeesport police station, and cross a parking lot before rejoining the trail near the Palisades.
An existing dead-end bike trail from the marina to the Youghiogheny point does allow bicyclists and walkers to reach the river’s edge. The new route will connect with that spur.
In addition to re-routing the trail, Brewster and Cherepko said other improvements are planned, including safety enhancements and solar-powered lighting. Work could begin as early as spring 2023, Cherepko said.
“Thanks to RIDC, we’re at the point now that now we have approval of the property owners, and ownership of the property, so I suspect we should be able to go out to bid in the very near future — possibly in the next two months or so,” Cherepko said.
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc.
Originally published November 18, 2022.