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After 16 years, here's why the Pike 2 Bike Trail has never gotten off the ground

Since posting about the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike, I started to do some digging on why there has been little to no progress on converting the highway into a multi-use trail.  Basically, it would be similar to the popular rail trails and greenways throughout the country.  We'll begin some background on when the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission sold 8.5 miles of what was once the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy (SAC) for one dollar.  The SAC's intentions were to convert the turnpike to a multi-use trail by preserving and adding lighting through the two tunnels (Rays and Sideling Hill), repaving at least 10' of the highway, creating trailheads, and more.

Sadly, in the sixteen years that have since passed, not much if anything has been done to either preserve the abandoned roadway or convert it to a multi-use trail.  Yet during this same time, numerous newspaper articles and features, websites, and blog entries about the abandoned turnpike has attracted more visitors to explore this old road.  However, as each year passes the old road continues to become more overgrown, the roadway and tunnels fall further in disrepair, and graffiti and minor vandalism is seen throughout.

So what happened?  Why has an idea and a project with great overall interest and visibility have so little done since 2001.  Well, it is slightly complicated.  But it comes down to a lack of leadership and direction, political concerns over economic impact, and lack of fundraising that has left the old highway no different than it was when the transfer agreement was made.

The Southern Alleghenies Conservancy took over the abandoned turnpike in November of 2001.  They wisely admitted that their overall goals to preserve and convert the turnpike to a multi-use trail would be an expensive and time consuming undertaking.  From 2002 - 2005, the SAC did provide updates on fundraising and overall progress of the project.

In 2002, SAC was developing contacts and making their initial plans in seeking funds and applying for grants.  Initial grant applications and local business sponsorships were generally unsuccessful.  The SAC had begun to identify various safety and improvement concerns, such as tree removals and storm drain clearing.

In 2003 and 2004, grant funding and some donations began to funnel into the project.  In 2003, the SAC received $35,000 from the USDA Rural Development Grant, and they would later receive $20,000 in form of a matching grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Culture and Natural Resources Heritage Parks Program.  They would also be awarded a $70,000 transportation enhancement grant from the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.  This grant was to help build a trailhead at the Eastern (Fulton County) edge of the trail.  Also, during this time the SAC was working with the PA Game Commission and other state agencies to reduce vandalism on the abandoned highway.

Much of the fundraising was done to help develop a master plan.  The master plan would eventually be developed by Ganett Fleming and released in May of 2006.  This plan estimated the cost of conversion to be at about $3.05 million over eight stages and ten years.  The old turnpike would see the westbound lanes converted to a path that would allow walking and horses w/carriages, the former 10 foot center median would become a natural trail for horseback riding, and the former eastbound lanes would become a paved 10' multi use trail with one foot shoulders on each side.  The remaining width of the eastbound lanes would be reclaimed by nature.

2006 Master Plan proposed cross section of the Pike 2 Bike Trail.  (Gannett Fleming)

Two trailheads, western at US 30 in Breezewood, eastern at the former Cove Valley Travel Plaza, would be constructed.  The tunnels would be stabilized and lit, bathroom facilities, and interpretive signage added.

It appears that the release of this master plan is what halted any progress in the highway's conversion to a multi-use trail.  Fulton County Commissioners were not receptive to the plan as they contended that though 85% of the trail would be within Fulton County, that most of the tourism dollars would be spend in Bedford County at Breezewood.  Breezewood already had amenities such as food, gas and lodging right near the proposed western trailhead access site.  After reviewing the 2006 Gannett Fleming proposal, the Fulton County Commissioners decided against participating or allocating any funds to the Pike 2 Bike project. (1)

Since 2006 - Lost in the Wilderness:

It seems that Fulton County's lack of support for the Pike 2 Bike, lack luster fundraising and grant awarding, and disinterest at the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy is what caused this once hopeful project to be shelved.  In 2007, the SAC website was taken down, and the SAC since conceded that it could not handle the project on its own. (2)

In 2014, a Pittsburgh based company called, Fourth Economy, completed their own study of the route.  The consulting firm proposed a number of different management and conversion scenarios.  The management/fundraising scenarios are as follows:
  1. A new non-profit agency created to carry on with the project and ownership going forward
  2. Returning the ownership of the land to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  3. A separate county partnership
  4. A joint municipal authority
Bedford County Planning Commission Directory Donald Schwartz considered the joint municipal authority as the best way to fund raise and quickest to complete. (2)  Fourth Economy also had three different proposals on the cost to convert the abandoned turnpike to Pike 2 Bike.  They are:

  1. "Safety First" - This plan would stabilize the tunnels, provide access and basic amenities at two trail heads handling approximately 25,000 annual visitors.  The cost was estimated at $3.28 million.
  2. "Family Friendly" - Along with the tunnel stabilization and safety improvements.  This would resurface the turnpike for a multi-use trail.  It would also include digging wells for water along the route, restrooms, signage, a "Midway Rest Area", benches, landscaping, and a solar charing area.  The cost of this would be $4.29 million.
  3. "Complete Connection" - This would include all items above and would connect the trail to other bike and hiking trails in the area along with the construction of a nature preserve within Fulton County.  Also a historical museum would be built at the Fulton County trailhead.  This plan would also allow for specialty vehicle access via an additional trailhead.  Cost - $6.27 million.  This plan estimates 225,000 visitors per year.
All three of these plans would see Fulton County do the majority of the investing and an aggressive time schedule.  The hope would be to have it completed over two years. (3)  Fulton County has continued to be skeptical of the overall economic impact in regards to any investment that they make to the project.  The concern remains that Breezewood with the tourism amenity infrastructure in place will see the most of the economic impact of such a trail. (1) Since the 2014 study and public hearings on the Fourth Economy study, there has not been any new news on the project.

In the meantime, the abandoned turnpike is still being accessed by thousands annually.  A private company called Grouseland Tours offers guided tours and bike rentals for the Pike 2 Bike.   But sadly due to the lack of an agreed upon plan, leadership or fund raising, the abandoned turnpike continues to fall into further overgrowth and disrepair.  Unfortunately, with each passing year the cost and effort needed to make the abandoned turnpike match the original 2001 vision of the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy increases and the chances of something being done smaller.

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