Route 22 pedestrian bridge plan

An architect's rendering of the Route 22 pedestrian bridge

BLACK LICK — For a second time, the Burrell Township board of supervisors has rejected the site plan for a proposed bridge for pedestrians and bike riders over Route 22 east of Blairsville.

At a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the supervisors turned down the Gibson-Thomas Engineers’ revisions to the bridge design that the township first shunned in May.

Supervisors John Shields and Dan Shacreaw voted against the design at the recommendation of the township’s engineer, Garvin Consulting, of Blairsville.

Engineer James Garvin detailed the shortcomings he found in a three-page letter to the supervisors.

The township’s rejection comes about 90 days after Indiana County officials delivered their answer to the supervisors’ original formal objection to the design.

At issue is an estimated $3 million bridge that would become a part of the Indiana County Parks and Trails system. It has been promoted by the county as a necessary link among three regional rails-to-trails corridors, said to hold value as an attraction for hikers and bikers, tourists, new businesses and new residents.

Tying together the Ghost Town Trail, Hoodlebug Trail and West Penn Trail would enable hikers and bikers to have off-road paths from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., promoters have suggested. Locally the bridge would hook up those trails with the Blairsville Riverfront trail, which runs along the Conemaugh River near downtown Blairsville but hasn’t been completely developed east to the Route 119 interchange area and the proposed pedestrian bridge.

Garvin started his recommendation to the supervisors by noting the latest bridge site plan shows “Temporary Construction Easements” outside the “Limit of Disturbance” shown on the expected area of environmental impact.

“The disturbed area should be re-evaluated and a NPDES permit should be submitted as necessary,” Garvin recommended.

In his report, he agrees with some of the revisions that the county submitted and in some cases he disagrees with wording shown on the design, but on many points, the engineer recommends substantial response: “A traffic study (signed and sealed) from a professional engineer is requested,” he advised in one instance.

Another hang-up is that the design refers to the highway as Route 422 instead of 22.

Shields, chairman of the supervisors, reiterated the engineer’s comments in a letter addressed to Byron Stauffer Jr., executive director of Indiana County Office of Planning and Development.

Shields and Shacreaw voted to send the letter after considering public comment from William Clawson, of Campbells Mill Road, the sole township resident attending as a spectator.

“I’m not for this bridge,” Clawson said. He called it a waste of taxpayer money that would generate more annual expense, and said it would be an eyesore on the horizon as he would see it from his rural home.

“The money could be better spent. The township needs natural gas service to Black Lick,” Clawson said.

Shacreaw lamented that the bridge would clutter the line of sight for westbound motorists descending Penn View Mountain toward the Route 119 interchange, and potentially put big trucks at risk of being unable to stop before reaching any traffic backup on Route 22.

The county’s answer to this rejection would restart the clock and require the township’s approval or rejection after another 90 days.

The township action Thursday ends county plans to have the project under construction by the end of the year.

For years before the bridge design was presented to the township for official review, the supervisors had voiced opposition to the proposal. Among the objections, they have called for the county to connect the Ghost Town, Hoodlebug and West Penn trails to Blairsville by running a path along one of the existing roads that use underpasses to cross the highway.

“In the long term, we’re probably not going to stop it,” Shields said. “But we can put up the roadblocks as much as we can. They’ve already spent too much money that they would have to pay back if they stop it.”

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.