MPO suggests trail project for funds

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The county Metropolitan Planning Organization voted last week to recommend an Antis Township Trail project for a chance to receive state funding.

The township only narrowly bested Altoona’s Safe Route to School plan, when MPO members rated the projects using a pre-established scorecard.

Out of a possible 65 points, the Antis project scored an average of 46, and Altoona scored 44.7, said Wesley Burket, a transportation Planner with the Blair County Planning Commission and MPO.

“They both were really terrific projects.” Burket said.

The municipalities were competing for a recommendation from the MPO to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which distributes Transportation Alternatives Program grant funds.

This year, Antis officials are seeking $858,780 for a trail project intended to connect the township with its neighboring municipalities, as well as larger trail networks, township manager Lucas Martsolf said.

Township Supervisor Dave Worthing highlighted the intermunicipality possibilities while opening a presentation at a recent MPO meeting.

“This is more than an Antis Township project,” Worthing said. “It really has regional significance.”

Addressing MPO members, Martsolf showed off plans to create a 2-mile trail, which will stretch from a Route 865 overpass trailhead in Bellwood Borough to Lower Riggles Gap Road.

The trail is part of a comprehensive parks and recreation improvement plan the township has developed in cooperation with Bellwood Borough.

Martsolf said the trail is the first in a three-phase project, with the second and third phases stretching in opposite directions to connect with Logan Township and Tyrone.

So far, the township has spent well over $100,000 to take control of properties along Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the trail. Martsolf said township officials hope to seek Department of Conservation and Natural Resources funding to recoup some of those costs.

That land acquisition includes the purchase of the Bells Gap Trail, an existing trail that was constructed with PennDOT funding, Martsolf said.

The land also includes wildlands and a portion of land previously owned by the Little Juniata River Association, which has access to a Class A wild trout stream, Martsolf said.

“One of the biggest challenges of our area is finding public land … that meets our federal and state mandated pollution reduction goals,” he said. “So this property will give us ample opportunity there.”

Township officials asked for a recommendation from the MPO for funding in the amount of about $875,000 from the state. If all goes according to plan, construction on the trail could begin as early as 2019, Martsolf said.

City officials sought a similar amount, asking for funding to cover a safe-route-to-school and bike lane project in the Margaret Avenue area.

“This project is a part of the city’s bike route network,” Altoona Planning and Community Development Director Lee Slusser said, “which also follows the county greenways plan.”

Slusser displayed maps depicting a bike route from Penn State Altoona to Downtown Altoona, and explained routes are planned to go through the city and connect to neighboring municipalities.

“Basically, our project and Antis Township’s project go right at each other,” Slusser said of a possible link.

The project also includes safety features intended to improve local students’ on-foot commutes.

“If you remember the game ‘Frogger’ from back in the day, that’s what it’s like with the kids,” said Nathan Kissell, Altoona’s public works director.

Kissell said a solution is still in the planning process, but city officials hope to make crossings safer near the schools.

“That’s one of the main goals that we are trying to get through here,” he said.

Ultimately, Antis Township was chosen to receive the recommendation, Burket said. Martsolf said he was pleased with the decision.

“It’s just one step closer from years of planning, and we’re really excited,” Martsolf said.

The recommendation does not guarantee that the township will receive funding. That will be decided by a state board, Burket said.

“I’m very confident,” Martsolf said.