The Allegheny Ridge Corporation is spearheading an effort to obtain $50 million in federal dollars over six years to make Blair County more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.
The effort is part of the national Rails to Trails Conservancy's 2010 Campaign for Active Transportation for America.
"The intent is to get $50 million for 50 communities in the next Surface Transportation Act," said Karl King, coordinator, Main Line Canal Greenway for the Allegheny Ridge Corporation.
(Mirror photo by William Kibler)
John Frederick (left), Carl King from the Allegheny Ridge Corporation (center) and Tom Sexton from the Rails to Trails Conservancy gather under the gazebo at Heritage Plaza Monday to discuss transportation.
On Monday, the corporation organized two groups of local officials to ride bikes from Penn State Altoona and Hollidaysburg to Heritage Plaza for a news conference marking the release to Congress of a national "case statement," and local statements from 49 participating communities, including Blair County.
With the bike rides, the corporation hoped to show that while doable, the rides could go better with the right infrastructure.
The conservancy is presenting the participating communities to Congress as ready and willing to put available funding to good use to develop infrastructure and education programs to increase the percentage of bike riding and walking for day-to-day transportation needs.
"Blair County is the only county in Pennsylvania earmarked for the money," said Executive Director Cheryl Ebersole of the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is supporting the effort. "The overall potential for this is great."
The initiative builds on active transportation allocations of $453 million a year under the current Transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, which generates savings of $4.1 billion a year in avoided driving, fuel savings, reduced carbon emissions and physical activity benefits.
The conservancy argues that a "substantial" increase in investment, it doesn't say how much, to shift a much higher percentage of trips of less than three miles from driving to biking or walking could save $65 billion a year.
Twenty-five percent of all trips are a mile or less, said Tom Sexton, director of the Conservancy's Northeast Regional Office in Camp Hill.
"A mile is nothing," he said, as he cut off chunks of an apple with a paring knife to eat after the news conference.
Locally, the Allegheny Ridge Corporation has formed a committee to identify how to use the money if it is successfully obtained.
"We are trying to identify what we would do with the $50 million to improve the area bicycling and pedestrian facility wise," King said. "We would like to have an integrated network tying the population centers all across the county."
"We are focused on the biggest problems on the retail corridors of Plank Road and Pleasant Valley Boulevard. We would like see a parallel bike lane along the boulevard," King said. "Logan Boulevard between Hollidaysburg and Altoona needs improvements to make it more friendly."
Old Route 220 may be an option for bike lanes to connect the ends of the county.
A project could be designed to make it easier for children to walk or bike to school, alleviating some of the busing problems caused by increased fuel prices.
"If we get funding, we would make improvements to make it easier to get around for people without getting in the car," King said.
King said the next step is to try to drum up local support.
"As the legislation is introduced we need those who think this has great benefit to express their support and let Congress and our senators know they would like to see this in our community, that it would benefit individuals and the community as a whole," King said.
The active transportation goals "make sense," said Jim Frank, staffer for U.S. Rep Bill Shuster. They play "a small but important role" in helping the country deal with major problems like energy and health, he said.
King said he remains optimistic the money will be approved for Blair County but that approval may not happen until late 2009.
"I won't say it is a slam dunk. If the support is there from the public and our elected officials, the prospects are pretty decent," King said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467; Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.