Community recognized for project

Forty years ago, Chuck Barrett lost his house when PennDOT cleared the way for an extension and widening of dead-end Juniata Gap Road.

On Thursday, he remembered the hurt, even as he gave the “OK” sign as he surveyed the most recent version of the now-busy thoroughfare, which includes a bike path connecting Penn State Altoona and downtown.

“It’s A-1,” Barrett said, during a small celebration involving city, Penn State and PennDOT officials of a Community Transportation Excellence Award for the bike path project, conferred by 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago.

The award recognizes projects that “catalyze community investment” and reflect responsible land use, according to a letter from the group.

In modern times, community investment often depends on making the community appealing to people who will help investment pay off, according to economic development experts.

A bike path on the main route to Penn State Altoona can make an early appeal to a prime group – would-be students and professors who are arriving for their first experience of the campus, according to Byron Deshong, owner of Pedal Power bike shop.

Seeing that path is a convincing sign that the area is “progressive,” he said.

It wasn’t seen as progress by everyone at first, according to Wayne Hippo, who was mayor in 2006, when Penn State Altoona Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry first proposed the idea to him.

“The same garbage you hear all the time from the same people,” Hippo said Thursday. “Naysayers.”

“I used to be one of those,” said Councilman Dave Butterbaugh, who arrived at Thursday’s ceremony on his bike.

Then he got on council and learned the value of enhancement projects, he said.

“We flipped him,” said current Mayor Bill Schirf.

PennDOT’s inclusion of the project in the most recent Juniata Gap rehabilitation project was critical, according to Hippo.

It was an opportunity for a “multi-modal” project, and those are rare in rural areas like District 9, said John Ciprich, PennDOT design services engineer.

The department is on the lookout for more of those, he said.

Bechtel-Wherry counts the users of the route when she comes to work every day.

There were seven Thursday – walkers and bikers – then four during the ceremony, she said.

It’s a good alternative for students going from the main campus to the downtown campus and vice-versa, if they don’t have a car or don’t want to wait for the every-20-minute shuttle bus, she said.

It’s safe and it’s “green,” she added.

“One shining beacon of success,” Hippo said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.