ELKINS - Randolph County Development Authority Executive Director Robbie Morris announced Monday that the final route for the $896,000 grant-funded rail-trail connector has been selected.
Originally, five potential paths were submitted by engineers to create a safe transition from the current end of the Allegheny Highland Trail in Elkins to the Elkins Depot Welcome Center in the city's downtown
Morris said there were meetings with different groups, including the Highland Trails Foundation, the city of Elkins, the All Veterans Memorial Council, Davis Medical Center and the Randolph County Convention and Visitors Center.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
Randolph County Development Authority Executive Director Robbie Morris reviews the path for the Elkins Rail Trail Connector Project Monday. The venture, which has been in the planning stages for more than 10 years, will link the Allegheny Highlands Trail from Highland Park to the Elkins Depot Welcome Center.
"We had our engineers, Burgess and Niple, from Parkersburg, come up with five different options to get from the trail where it currently ends on U.S. Route 219 - across from Woodford Oil - to the Elkins Depot," Morris said. "The original route we selected was reviewed by the DOH. The DOH was not comfortable with the crossing."
Officials went back to the drawing board, and Morris said everyone involved is in agreement with this new route.
"We are going to stay on the East side of U.S. Route 219," Morris said. "From there, we are going to continue out and bring the trail down to cross Craven's Run. From there, we will bring the trail down onto street level."
"We are going to put in a curb, two feet of green space, another curb, and then we are going to put in a culvert," Morris added. "We will cover the culvert up and that will be the trail."
Morris said the trail will go along the entire East side of U.S. Route 219 and will cross the entrances to Graceland and Gateway Apartments.
"The DOH is changing the lights at U.S. Route 219 and Randolph Avenue. When activated, the entire intersection will be required to stop to allow for safe crossing," Morris said. "Once across the intersection, the trail will continue at the corner of Walgreen's and travel to the corner of Fifth Street and Railroad Avenue. From there, it will cross onto the streetscape of Railroad Avenue, where the new sidewalk is, and straight into the depot."
Morris said the RCDA plans to meet with Elkins City Council to ask that bicycles be allowed on that small stretch of sidewalk and have that portion designated a bike trail.
"Once completed, people can park at the depot, get on their bike and have a safe route all the way to Parsons," Morris said.
"The original grant was applied for in 2010 by the Randolph County Development Authority on behalf of the Highland Trails Foundation," Morris added. "Originally, the DOT was going to administer the grant and take care of everything. They have a lot on their plate and us as the granting entity, we took over administration."
Morris said the No. 1 goal with the rail-trail connector is safety.
"We want it to be a scenic route as well and want it to be user-friendly," Morris said. "Some people have asked for a bridge, two bridges or a tunnel underneath the intersection. While we are saying that would be fantastic, it is not something we can do. We looked into having a bridge put in. There were several issues, but the No. 1 is funding."
Morris said the rail-trail connector is going to enhance the look of U.S. Route 219 coming into Elkins.
"Hopefully, we could plant red maple trees," Morris said. "There will be a big thoroughfare into town. It will allow people to walk to work, ride their bikes to work and feel safe doing so."
"It's going to be a great asset for Elkins and Randolph County - for recreational tourism, for workforce commuter patterns in the Highland Park area, for safe routes to school - kids will have a safe walk path. Davis & Elkins College students will have access, too" Morris added. "They can come down the hill and get on the trail and ride all the way to Parsons."
Morris said he is excited for the project to proceed.
"The engineers will take the route we have selected and create all the documents that are needed for formal DOH approval," Morris said. "They will be sent to Charleston. Once DOH approves the route or makes changes, it will be put out to bid. They are busy, so my guess is it will go out to bid in January or February 2015, and construction will start in Spring 2015."
Morris said one of the key benefits of the project will be to increase tourism in the area and provide a safe, accessible and scenic trail for the public. The project is being funded by a West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways Transportation Enhancement grant.
"We look forward to the economic benefits it will provide to businesses downtown and adding to the recreational tourism side of Elkins," Morris said.