It may be just six miles long, but the soon-to-be-unveiled Montour Trail connection to the Pittsburgh International Airport packs a lot of punch.
Almost 12 years in the making, the airport link, which shoots off the Montour Trail near mile-marker eight, will boost the utility of the Montour trail enormously, expanding its reach as both a recreational outlet and an efficient pathway for commuters.
The idea for a link between the popular Montour Trail, which creates a half-loop around the southwest side of Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh International Airport was first raised in 2000. There were a multitude of reasons the airport, trails advocates and planners sought a connector, not least of which was increasing shopper access to the airport mall, giving employees, travelers and hotel guests a place to recreate, and offering employees a safe and convenient commute option.
Meetings were held and plans were moving forward. Then 9/11 happened.
"Everything came to a screeching halt," remembers Tim Killmeyer, board member of the all-volunteer Montour Trail Council and project manager for the airport connector. "The airport people had much greater things to worry about than getting bicyclists to the airport mall, which was now closed to the non-boarding pass public, anyway."
But airport officials had already been sold on the importance of a non-motorized connection to the airport. The trails community, too, understood this would be a critical link. The Allegheny Trail Alliance, which promotes the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) between Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, saw Pittsburgh as a crucial hub of a trails network expanding in all directions. The Montour Trail connects to the GAP, offering users an alternate route that circumvents a number of on-road sections through Pittsburgh. With this proposed connector, it would also connect the GAP to national and international air traffic.
"Cyclists and hikers were inquiring about a connection to air transportation, so they could fly into Pittsburgh and experience the region's incredible trails network," Killmeyer says. "It became clear that something needed to be done."
And so something was done. On Tuesday, March 20, Killmeyer will be front and center among a large group of regional trail advocates for the ribbon cutting of the Montour Trail/Airport connector. To celebrate what has truly been a collaborative effort, all residents and local businesspeople are encouraged to join the trail opening festivities, which will take place at 11 a.m. where the new asphalt trail crosses into the airport's Extended Parking Lot (Section 16D).
Those wanting to ride bicycles to the event can use the well-marked connector, which begins at the five-way intersection near mile eight of the Montour Trail, just upstream of the Enlow Tunnel. The Pittsburgh Major Taylor Bicycle Club will lead riders to the event from the Enlow Ballfield, leaving there around 10 a.m. Attendees wishing to drive can park for free in the Extended Lot, Section 16D, which is located right next to the site of the event.
"This new connection to the Montour Trail is a huge step toward making Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania accessible for bicycle touring," says Mary Shaw, a long-distance cyclist and rail-trail guidebook author who contributed financially to the new section of trail. "It opens Pittsburgh as an endpoint for bicycle touring of all kinds, and complements and extends other improvements to cycling facilities in Pittsburgh that led to our designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010. It just keeps getting better and better."
For more information on the Montour Trail, or the March 20 opening, visit: montourtrail.org