Somerset County is trying to find a way to connect the Flight 93 National Memorial with the Great Allegheny Passage as part of a 1,100-mile September 11 National Memorial Trail, which would link the World Trade Center and Pentagon with the Flight 93 crash site.
County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to use a $20,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to contract Philadelphia consultant to Campbell Thomas & Co. to study routes stretching from Garrett to Shanksville in Somerset County. The County also committed a $10,000 match for the project.
Right now, the proposed routes are mainly on roadways, so consultants are studying potential safety hazards, according to Trail Coordinator Brett Hollern. He said results of the study should be released this summer.
“Ideally, the goal would be an off-road connection at some point in the future the whole way so we wouldn’t have to use any on-road routing,” Hollern said.
And one way to do that is by converting old railroad tracks.
Hollern is applying for state and federal grants to purchase roughly eight miles of unused rail property currently owned by CSX Transportation Corp. Once converted, the trail would stretch from the Great Allegheny Passage in Garrett to Berlin in Somerset County along the Buffalo Creek—about half way to Shanksville.
“Sometimes rails to trails conversions are easy,” Hollern said. “This one is a railroad that hasn’t existed in service in quite some time…The railbed’s basically gone. There’s three or four bridges that cross the creek that are no longer there.”
Through the state grant, Somerset County would cover half the cost of the railroad acquisition, including surveys and appraisals, while the Sept. 11 National Memorial Trail Alliance, would pick up the other 50 percent.
The acquisition will cost an estimated $205,000, while the rail to trail conversion will easily cost more than $1 million, Hollern said.
“We don’t know exact numbers yet and that’s part of what the amendment on Tuesday allowed the contractors to do was to start to put some numbers to paper on what this project will cost,” Hollern said.
Hollern said he doesn’t know when the trail expansion project will be finished, but he would like to see some progress in time to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11 and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.
“There’s a desire to have something either on the ground or turning shovels or some type of significant event to concur with those events for the 9/11 trail,” he said. “The realist in me says that’s a real aggressive plan and everything takes time.”
But Hollern still expects this project to move faster than any other trail development.
“There’s a group of people that are really committed, really dedicated, and I also believe that, under the banner of Sept. 11, we really can overcome hurdles a lot quicker than we might be with a traditional trail development project.”