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Trail numbers looking good

We received another reminder about our region’s potential for growth a little more than a week ago in the form of a feasibility study prepared by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

The work, which covers 89 pages, concludes that the completion of the Pittsburgh-to-Cleveland trail corridor would offer a much-needed economic jolt to the region.

Numbers included in the study put together by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit paint an interesting picture for communities located in the Tri-State Area.

They show that 221,000 people live within a half-mile and 14 million people live within 100 miles of the 200-plus-mile corridor.

It would add to a boost in tourism industry that already thrives in our region — in 2017, $44 billion in tourism dollars was generated in Ohio, $43.3 billion in traveler spending was generated in Pennsylvania and $4.1 billion in direct tourism dollars were generated in West Virginia.

A finished corridor would offer great opportunities for those who enjoy the outdoors, connecting into a 1,500-mile multiuse trail that would cover 51 counties in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. And 146 miles of it would tie into the 3,700 Great-American Rail-Trail, which runs from Washington, D.C., to the state of Washington.

About 75 percent of the Pittsburgh-to-Cleveland trail is complete. Still to be finished are 32.6 miles of trail — 28.4 miles between Jewett and the Ohio River in Ohio and 4.2 miles between the river and the Panhandle Trail on the West Virginia side.

Completing those paths will come with a significant price tag — estimates say work on the Ohio side could cost between $2.4 million and $5 million, while work on the West Virginia side could cost between $2 million and $2.5 million.

Another issue would center around getting trail traffic across the river. The conservancy said it might be possible to utilize the Market Street Bridge for that purpose. Constructed in 1905, the bridge is nearing the end of its useful life and likely will be decommissioned shortly after the Wellsburg-to-Brilliant bridge is opened to traffic.

Current projections call for that project to be completed sometime in early 2022.

And, while West Virginia might be willing to sell the bridge for a very low price, modification and maintenance costs associated with the structure would no doubt be great, and a solid financial plan would have to be in place before organizers would be able to proceed.

That said, the completed trail would help open new economic opportunities for our region and would help to open up our riverfront areas for development. In addition to generating tourism dollars, it would help to make our area more attractive to businesses and individuals who are looking for a place to locate a facility or live.

The conservancy, which is dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people, said the study represents an overall plan and a playbook. If executed, the project would be big for our region, explained Mark Nelson of the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, one of the organizations that has consistently backed the area’s trail projects.

“The health, recreational and economic benefits will be very appreciated here,” Nelson added.

Those benefits, all of which would improve the quality of life for all who live in the region, are why the project should be pursued.

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