There is a potential big deal brewing in the world of trails. The FEC team always challenges our clients to identify their unique value proposition. What sets your community or region apart from all others? A major destination trail envisioned for an abandoned portion of the Pennsylvania Turnpike would do just that for Bedford and Fulton Counties.
Some quick history…
The Pennsylvania Turnpike (America’s first “superhighway”) was opened to traffic in 1940. At that time, the tunnels on the Turnpike had only one travel lane in each direction. The result was significant bottlenecks as traffic increased over the years. In order to alleviate these bottlenecks, additional tunnels were added at most locations. However, for an 11-mile section of Turnpike that included Rays Hill Tunnel (0.7 miles) on the border of Bedford and Fulton Counties, and Sideling Hill Tunnel (1.3 miles; the longest tunnel on the Turnpike) in Fulton County, a new roadway was constructed and opened in 1968. The abandoned section and two tunnels continued to be used sporadically for various purposes, but slowly deteriorated.
Over time, citizens have retained maps, letters, photographs and artifacts of the changes and uses this stretch of land has endured over the past one hundred years. This rich history has led advocates to push for the tunnels’ preservation and public use. In 2000 the Turnpike Commission chose to return the abandoned section to the public sector. In 2001 ownership of 8.5 miles of roadway including the two tunnels was transferred to the non-profit Southern Alleghenies Conservancy (SAC), with the intention of rehabilitating the roadway and tunnels into a multi-use trail.
Dubbed “Pike2Bike,” there really would be nothing like it in the country. Standing in front of each of the two former highway tunnels, you feel small – very small. The super-structures tower above you and run deep into the Central Allegheny Mountains. Despite the darkness and seemingly endless echoes, you want to go in, explore and experience this unique landscape, once the exclusive domain for automobiles. The Pike2Bike corridor represents a unique blend of highway transportation history and interaction with the environment as it traverses the Buchanan State Forest.
FEC was engaged in August of 2013 to take on the task of projecting the economic impact of this trail if it were developed. The process included a series of site visits, public outreach meetings, survey distribution and analysis, and an extensive literature review. Combined, these sources led to a comparative understanding of other trail impact experiences, amenities and visitor levels. Using the information collected, a scenario-based economic model was created and analyzed using IMPLAN software.
The final report, Economic Impact Analysis of the Proposed Pike2Bike Trail, captures both a positive outlook and impact for the trail. The survey and public outreach revealed strong community support for the Pike2Bike project. Over 80 percent of current Fulton and Bedford County residents expressed support for the proposed Pike2Bike trail. 75 percent of business owners believed that the completion of Pike2Bike project would help bring new jobs or economic opportunities to the area. Current business owners also indicated they may invest in a new business to support the trail if it were developed.
The impact findings revealed that if only access and safety concerns were addressed as part of the project, the benefit to the local economy would be approximately $5.1 million and result in a combination of 56.5 construction and ongoing support jobs. If additional infrastructure amenities and programming efforts were developed, allowing for a broader trail user constituency, the economic impact could increase to as much as $8.8 million and a combination of 143.8 construction and ongoing support jobs. Beyond the numbers, additional potential benefits include improved citizen health and wellness.
Stay tuned for more on the development of this unique destination. For a copy of the final report, click here. To learn how you can support this project or become engaged, contact the Bedford County Planning Commission or Fulton County Planning Commission.