Thursday, October 1, 2009

from today's Daily Local Newspaper

Construction begins on Chester Valley Trail

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EAST WHITELAND — Construction has begun on the long-awaited Chester Valley Trail, the hiking and biking recreational trail that will eventually connect central Chester County with Philadelphia.

Construction and engineering crews began work on the trail last week. Brush and trees are being cleared to make way for the replacement of a century-old culvert that must be replaced before the trail is paved.

On Wednesday, the three county commissioners met with construction managers for the project at a portion of the trail near the East Whiteland Municipal Building. They got a quick rundown of the work that was proceeding and a glimpse of what the trail will look like in the future.

"This is another step on the way to getting Chester County listed as the number one county in America," Chairman Terence Farrell said as he walked the trail south of Route 401. Part of the county's strategic plan for open space and recreation, the trail "helps create a wonderful environment that makes people want to live here. It's part of the charm of Chester County," Farrell said.

"Administration after administration (of commissioners) have committed themselves to following

through on the completion of this trail," Farrell said, standing on the bed of crushed stone as the sounds of chainsaws could be heard in the background. "It's great that we get to see this opening."

The Chester Valley Trail, which runs from Exton to the Tredyffrin border with Montgomery County, has been 13 years in the making, according to information provided by the county. It stretches 12.2 miles along the former rail bed of the Chester Valley Railroad, which long ago abandoned it.

The eventual cost of the project, which is expected to be completed sometime after 2010, is $19 million — the bulk of which will come from federal funds.

Getting the project started is a stunning achievement, said Commissioner Carol Aichele, who has championed it in her two terms in office.

"This has been many years in the making," she said Wednesday. "It is always so difficult to get a government project like this started, much more than people realize. I'm happy with this. Every now and then you win one."

The benefits of the trail would be widespread, she said. In addition to providing recreational opportunities, she said she expects that commuters will use it during fair weather to get to work. "It'll be faster to get from Exton to King of Prussia than driving your car on (Route) 202," she said semi-jokingly.

Over the years, the county has obtained the land necessary for the trail, designed it, held public workshops on the trail, and submitted it to the state Department of Transportation for review. The biggest hurdle was overcome earlier this year when PennDOT agreed to turn over title of the longest portion of the trail to the county at no cost.

Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, who said she had walked part of the trail earlier this summer, likened its creation, in its own small way, to the establishment of the U.S. National Park System.

"In addition to the obvious transportation and recreation issues (that the trail addresses), it's also an opportunity for people to connect with the outdoor world. It's very peaceful and almost spiritual in a way."

John DiFelice, the project manager for C. Abbonizio Inc., the site contractors from Sewell, N.J., explained that the first order of business in the project was to dig out an eight-foot-high stone culvert that was on the verge of collapse. The spot where the commissioners held their brief inspection was atop a 45-foot-high embankment underneath which a small creek runs through the culvert.

The county has already rehabilitated a number of such culverts along the trail, but DiFelice said that the one off Route 401 would have to be completely replaced. Another such culvert farther up the trail will also have to be replaced, and a pedestrian bridge must be built across nearby Church Road.

Will McBeth, of the engineering firm of McCormick Taylor, said that the overall complexity of the project is minimal, with the exception of replacing the culverts and the bridge. Both he and DiFelice said they expect the work on the first section of the trail to be finished in August 2010.

The first section runs from the Church Farm School on Swedesford Road in West Whiteland to where the rail bed crosses Route 29 in East Whiteland near the Route 202 interchange. About half of the 4.2-mile stretch is being constructed by the Whiteland Village senior housing development, in exchange for allowing a sanitary sewer line to run underneath the first two miles of the trial.

The second section runs through East Whiteland and Tredyffrin, past the Vanguard Industries corporate campus, and connects with the Montgomery County trail system that links with the Schuylkill River Trial that ends at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

The review process for that section has begun with PennDOT and is expected to take up the bulk of 2010. The $15 million cost of these eight miles will come from federal and county funds. This section will include a pedestrian underpass at Warner Road in Tredyffrin.

Aichele said that the commissioners had kept the project alive over the years despite the obstacles at the urging of a number of groups, most notably the Chester County Cycling Coalition.

Mary LaSota, head of the coalition, said her group was encouraged by the start of construction.

"It is going to provide a lot of opportunities for commuters and recreational cyclists," she said. "I know the cycling community as a whole has been waiting for this for a long time. We will be keeping an eye on the construction."

Trails are important to county residents for recreation purposes because of the lack of walkable sidewalks, Aichele said. "Roads where people used to walk are no longer safe because of the increase in traffic," Aichele said. "These trails are what people want." She said that over the years, the county had lagged behind other suburban counties in construction of walking and biking trails. "This is a step forward for Chester County."

Cozzone agreed. "This has been in the works a long time, but I think there has been a real desire to get it done," she said. "This trail, and all the other trails (in the county), are a real draw for people to move here.

"It's a good opportunity to take a walk on a Sunday afternoon with your family," she said.

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