By Nathan Zisk
BLACK LICK – For four years, Burrell township supervisors have clashed with Indiana County officials over prioritized construction of a grant-funded, bicycle and pedestrian path and bridge through the township. But a new survey conducted in and around the 4,100-resident municipality this month found strong public support for the project.
Last month, township supervisors Dan Shacreaw, John Shields and board Chairman Larry Henry formally rejected the county Office of Planning and Development project despite its unanimous adoption by county commissioners in 2012. To gauge public opinion among their constituents and neighboring citizens, The HawkEye developed a convenience-sampling survey and administered it in three sites — Black Lick, home to the supervisors’ office; in Burrell Township shopping center off U.S. Route 22, and in neighboring Blairsville borough.
There were 31 respondents who completed the 19-question survey. The surveys were administered June 15, 17, 18 and 22. They asked respondents’ opinions of Indiana County parks and trails, the proposed bridge project, alternatives to the bridge and the project’s effect on the local economy, among other issues.
Overall, most survey respondents said they favored the proposed bridge project and said it would benefit the county’s parks-and-trails system.
- 97 percent said others would use the bridge if it were constructed, and 68 percent said they would use the bridge themselves;
- 94 percent said Indiana’s trails should have safety measures for bikers and hikers to avoid crossing busy highways such as U.S. Routes 22 and 119;
- 77 percent said knowing its price, they’d still support the construction of the $3 million, grant-funded bridge;
- 68 percent said a bridge connecting regional trails to cross four-lane U.S. 22 would benefit the county’s parks and trails system;
- 58 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that the bridge’s construction should be put on hold because some incoming county commissioners may not support the project following the Nov. 5 general election; and
- respondents were split between agreement (45 percent) and disagreement (42 percent) over whether the money would be better spent on developing another way to cross U.S. Route 22, such as using an existing underpass.
IN AN INTERVIEW during the mid-June survey period, township Supervisor Shacreaw asserted that the project would not accomplish its goal of linking several regional trails.
“Currently, if built, the Route 22 pedestrian bridge will not connect any trails,” Shacreaw wrote in a June 20 text message. “It will merely guide you from the north side of Route 22 (Cornell Road) Township Road to the Park and Ride … on the south side of Route 22.”
Existing trails – the Hoodlebug and the Ghost Town to the north and the West Penn the south –currently stop short of the proposed bridge. However, planners’ would connect them to the proposed bridge crossing.
“Had there been a trail on both sides of Route 22 and the bridge was needed to truly connect them, I wouldn’t have as much of an issue,” Shacreaw continued. “But there are currently no trails within 3 to 4 miles on both the north and south side of the proposed bridge.”
However, according to Google Maps’ distance-measuring tool, the Hoodlebug Trail ends four-tenths of a mile north of the proposed bridge site. And according to county planners, the Hoodlebug, which connects to the Ghost Town Trail in Black Lick near the township supervisors’ office, would be extended along Cornell Road to connect to the bridge and cross U.S. 22 near a tangle of intersecting municipal streets and an interchange of federal highways in a busy commercial zone bordering northern Blairsville borough’s adjacent commercial zone.
On the south side of the proposed bridge is the Blairsville Park and Ride lot near the Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort and Conference Center. The proposed bike trail would connect the bridge and the commuter parking lot to the Blairsville Riverfront Trail, according to county planners.
SURVEY RESPONDENTS WERE SPLIT (45 percent to 42 percent) over whether the grant money would be better spent on developing another way for hikers and bikers to reach Blairsville, such as using one of several existing underpasses beneath U.S. 119/22. And in their recent formal rejection of the bridge proposal, Burrell supervisors pitched underpass routes to reach Blairsville, calling the idea a “safer alternative connector.”
But county planners said those alternative routes were investigated and deemed not feasible for a variety of reasons, including “narrow pavement widths, steep grades and sharp curves” and “extensive property acquisition in agricultural areas and regulatory constraints.” Two studies of the corridor identified the bridge as the safest way to cross the busy four-lane highway. Both studies were conducted in conjunction with Burrell township, Blairsville borough, PennDOT (Shacreaw’s employer) and other stakeholders, according to county planners.
Shacreaw disagreed with county planners’ reasons for scrapping alternative routes. The township supervisor said certain sections of the bridge project’s proposed route have the same road conditions as those the planners used to eliminate Burrell supervisors’ preferred alternatives.
“I believe their points are invalid and are just to try and push the pedestrian bridge as the only way possible,” Shacreaw said.
BYRON G. STAUFFER JR., executive director of the county Office of Planning & Development, downplayed disagreements with township supervisors.
“They have a role to play,” Stauffer said in a June 26 phone interview. “I respect that they are doing their job as elected officials.”
But he added that planning for the transportation project long preceded current township supervisors.
“We have been going down this path for many, many years before this board of supervisors,” Stauffer said.
County officials will continue down the path, Stauffer said. By mid-July, they plan to re-submit an application for the project under Burrell township’s subdivision and land-development ordinance.
“It has nothing to do with design,” Stauffer said. “It’s just geography.”
Reporter Nathan Zisk graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania on May 11 with a degree in economics and journalism. He is from Brownsville, Pa.
The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. Email email@example.com or click on the “contact us” drop-down menu, above.
Sidebar: The bike-path survey
Following is a copy of the survey completed by 31 respondents in and around Burrell township and Blairsville borough between June 15 and 22. The 19-item questionnaire was designed as a convenience-sample survey.
Such sampling is not intended to make statistical inferences from the sample to the general population. However, it may help build understanding of a social or political issue.
Responses are inserted in italics following each question.
The HawkEye: Burrell Township Bike Path Questionnaire
Please answer the following questions or circle the correct responses:
- What is your gender?
Male Female Other Prefer not to say
Male Respondents: 13 (41.93%) Female Respondents: 18 (58.06%)
- What is your age?
18-24: 12 (38.71%)
25-34: 3 (9.68%)
35-44: 4 (12.9%)
45-54: 4 (12.9%)
55-64: 2 (6.45%)
65-74: 3 (9.68%)
75 + : 3 (9.68%)
- Do you live in Burrell Township?
Yes: 19 (69.29%) No: 12 (38.71%)
- If no, do you live in Indiana County?
Yes: 7 (58.33%) No: 5 (41.67%)
- How many days per week do you spend time biking, walking, hiking, or running?
Average: 2.87 days per week
- Have you ever used Indiana County’s parks or trails for biking, walking, hiking, or running?
Yes: 27 (87.1) No: 4 (12.9%)
- A 2009 economic impact analysis by Rails to Trails Conservancy found Ghost Town Trail (in Indiana County) had an estimated 75,557 annual user-visits, and trail users spent $1.7 million between April and October of that year. Do you think higher trail usage helps boost local economy?
Yes: 24 (77.42%) No: 3 (9.68%) Don’t Know: 4 (12.9%)
- Indiana County’s park system has annual visitors of about 350,000 people. Do you think these annual visitors help boost local economy?
Yes: 30 (96.77%) No: 0 (0%) Don’t Know: 1 (3.23%)
- Would uninterrupted hiking and biking trails between Pittsburgh and central Pennsylvania be a beneficial addition to Indiana County’s parks and trails system?
Yes: 27 (87.1%) No: 1 (3.23%) Don’t Know: 3 (9.68%)
- Should Indiana County’s trails have safety measures for bikers and hikers to avoid having to cross traffic and busy highways?
Yes: 29 (93.55%) No: 2 (6.45%) Don’t Know: 0 (0%)
- Do you think a bridge connecting several regional trails for bikers and hikers to cross U.S. Route 22, east of Blairsville, would be a beneficial addition to Indiana County’s parks and trails system?
Yes: 21 (67.74%) No: 2 (6.45%) Don’t Know: 8 (25.81%)
- The bridge’s construction cost would be $3 million. The project would be grant-funded, and neither Burrell Township nor any other municipality would have to pay any of the $3 million or for the bridge’s upkeep. Knowing its price, do you support the bridge’s construction?
Yes: 24 (77.42%) No: 4 (12.9%) Don’t Know: 3 (9.68%)
- Do you think the bridge would increase tourism in Burrell Township?
Yes: 19 (61.29%) No: 9 (29.03%) Don’t Know: 3 (9.68%)
- The bridge is meant to connect several existing regional trails, including the Ghost Town, the Hoodlebug, the West Penn and the Blairsville Riverfront trails. If constructed, would you use this bridge for hiking, biking, walking, or running?
Yes: 21 (67.74%) No: 10 (32.26%) Don’t Know: 0 (0%)
- Do you think others would use this bridge?
Yes: 30 (96.77%) No: 0 (0%) Don’t Know: 1 (3.23%)
|Please indicate the level you agree or disagree with the following statements:|
1: Strongly Disagree 2: Disagree 3: Agree 4: Strongly Agree 5: N/A
|16||Hikers and bikers should not have to cross busy highways such as U.S. Route 22 to continue on their trails.||Strongly Disagree: 0 (0%)
Disagree: 1 (3.23%)
Agree: 16 (51.61%)
Strongly Agree: 13 (41.94%)
N/R: 1 (3.23%)
|17||A bridge that would connect several regional trails and allow safe crossing of U.S. Route 22 would be a beneficial project.||Strongly Disagree: 1 (3.23%)
Disagree: 2 (6.45%)
Agree: 18 (58.06%)
Strongly Agree: 8 (25.81%)
N/R: 2 (6.45%)
|18||The $3 million grant would be better spent on developing another way for hikers and bikers to reach Blairsville, such as using an existing underpass from the north to south side of Route 22.||Strongly Disagree: 1 (3.23%)
Disagree: 12 (38.71%)
Agree: 10 (32.26%)
Strongly Agree: 4 (12.9%)
N/R: 4 (12.9%)
|19||The bridge project should be put on hold because some county commissioners will not run for re-election, and incoming comissioners should not be forced to undergo a project they may not support.||Strongly Disagree: 4 (12.9%)
Disagree: 14 (45.16%)
Agree: 5 (16.13%)
Strongly Agree: 2 (6.45%)
N/R: 6 (19.35%)