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Local counties join forces to seek grant

LOCK HAVEN — It is said that joining forces brings success.

And Clinton County officials are hoping that comes true as they eagerly await word on a $23.3 million federal grant they’ve applied for with neighboring counties.

Commissioners and planners said the BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant would be a godsend for Clinton, Lycoming and Tioga counties by creating an accessible and sustainable network of hiking and bicycling trails, roads and bridges to expand travel choice, strengthen the local economy, improve the quality of life and protect the environment in those counties.

And it couldn’t come at a better time.

With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping through the nation, people have been pent up in their homes as restrictions closed parks, physical fitness facilities, eateries and other venues and businesses. It has left people not only unemployed, but anxious to get outside, enjoying the hiking, biking, leisurely drives through the rural countryside and doing business with take-out restaurants and outdoor eateries.

Commissioners and planners with the three counties believe they have developed a robust grant application to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration that, if awarded, will go a long way toward improving the quality of life in the region.

And partnering on the application should give the grant more support for approval, they said. Cooperation agreements for each county have been executed and attached to the extensive grant application, which details every project which would be funded with the money.

“This regional approach will benefit the population of the entire region, bringing a lot of people into the region,” said John Lavelle, deputy director of planning and community development in Lycoming County.

If the proposed projects are funded and completed, they should attract people to use newly built trails, repaired and rebuilt roads and bridges. It will also give businesses more tools and capability to reopen safely for tourists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, Lavelle said.

Calling the initiative “a perfect storm,” Lavelle said, “all of the projects have different timelines and we felt it was worthy of a joint effort.”

Tioga County, home to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, is the lead grant applicant. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would manage the initiatives.

The planners have been working for months to write the grant, detail the projects and costs and gain letters of support. They expect to find out if the grant is awarded in September.

“We’re competing against everyone in the United States,” said Katie deSilva, Clinton County’s director of planning, at a recent meeting of officials involved in the grant application process.

She said Lock Haven is a Federal Opportunity Zone and that designation could be a deal-maker when it comes to winning the grant.

According to the application, the initiative’s goals are to improve safety, establish connectivity and rebuild infrastructure.

Safety is a top priority, as the challenge of communities of this region see conflict between vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists on roads which were not constructed to handle both.

School children are of particular risk, they said.

Another challenge facing these rural communities — Lock Haven, Renovo, Wellsboro, Jersey Shore and the many other boroughs and larger communities in the three counties — is their isolation. That isolation can, studies have shown, lead to unemployment, population loss, increased drug abuse and more.

Yet, even as the communities in the region serve as gateways from major highways, such as Routes 220, 15 and 6, they struggle economically due to a loss of consumers to big box and online retail sales.

But they have one thing in common: They are within proximity to the Pine Creek Rail Trail, which is an integral component to the region’s active, outdoor transportation network.

Now 62 miles long, the trail from Wellsboro to Jersey Shore and, when conmpleted, west to the Lock Haven area, will be 80 miles long.

The aged infrastructure is another challenge. Many of the roads, bridges and some rail lines were built in the early 1900s and are in need of repair.

The following are among projects included and the estimated cost of each:

• Marsh Creek Greenway — Located in Wellsboro, this 3.2 mile non-motorized transportation alternative project removes cyclists and pedestrians from US Route 6. It also includes construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of four bridge projects identified by PennDOT as critical to the project. The cost is $13,504,139.

• Bald Eagle Valley Trail — BEVT services the greater Lock Haven area. This project provides an 11-mile transportation alternative for residents of Lock Haven, Castanea Township, Pine Creek Township, Wayne Township and Avis Borough. This project will safely link these communities to each other, to Jersey Shore Borough and to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The cost is $1.4 million.

• Jersey Shore Borough Transportation Improvements — This project addresses unsafe cycling and pedestrian movements in Jersey Shore. Improvements include intersection enhancements, bike lanes, pathways and sidewalk improvements. This component includes a trail linkage to the Bald Eagle Valley Trail and to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. It also provides signage to direct users of the Pine Creek Rail Trail to the heard of Jersey Shore’s business district. The cost is $3,154,251.

• Jersey Shore’s Lawshe Run Culvert Replacement — Replaces a 1,327 linear-foot culvert running under Allegheny Street — a major route carrying over 7,600 vehicles per day — and home to businesses and residents of Jersey Shore. The cost is $9,385,000.

• Lycoming Valley Railroad Bridge — This project elevates the bridge from its current height of 13 feet 10 inches to enable movement of goods and materials on this rail line and on US Route 220, which is part of the National Highway System. The cost is $713,725.

The total project cost is $28.5 million. The grant is for $23.3 million. The difference has already been secured with other grants to Tioga County, deSilva said.

“No matching funds are required for the construction grant,” deSilva said, noting that Clinton County has already paid engineering fees for its project.

The grant has great potential to create construction jobs, boost business and employment and, overall, improve the region’s appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, deSilva said.

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