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Trail system gets bridge, $25K donation

PATH
Apr. 30, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- The Paul Ambrose Trail for Health now owns a critical piece of infrastructure that officials say will link the biking and walking pathway to more neighborhoods in Huntington.

CSX Transportation officials announced Tuesday they are donating an old rail bridge that spans the Guyandotte River in Guyandotte to PATH along with $25,000 to help pay for the bridge's renovation so it can accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.

"The plans with PATH are always evolving," state Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said during a news conference on Marshall University's campus. "That's why it's important that when you get an asset like this to take advantage of it."

PATH consists of existing or planned pathways and share-the-road routes that will eventually connect all of Huntington's parks and major employers from the West End to Altizer. Named for Dr. Paul Ambrose, a promising young physician who died Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed the plane he was on into the Pentagon, planners view the trail system as a tool to fight obesity and enhance the quality of life for Tri-State residents.

The first phase of construction of PATH is nearing completion. It consists of a 3.5-mile pathway along the floodwall at 3rd Street West to Vinson Road in Westmoreland, a half-mile wooded trail that connects Harveytown Park to Ritter Park and a 1.25-mile trail that stretches from the Guyandotte boat launch and along Riverside Drive to the Washington Boulevard Bridge in front of Special Metals.

The bridge that CSXT donated to PATH is due north of an active rail bridge that crosses over Riverside Drive. Plymale, who is executive director of the Rahall Transportation Institute, the lead agency in the development of the trail system, said the bridge will provide a better link between Huntington's Highlawn neighborhood and Guyandotte. There is enough land on the west side of the bridge to build a small park and pathway that can extend from Altizer to the Emogene Dolin Jones Hospice House in Highlawn, he said.

PATH officials are also considering purchasing an old B&O right-of-way from CSXT that runs from the bridge to Guyandotte Elementary School to provide a safe and accessible route to the trail system for children, Plymale said. There is no timetable for repairing the bridge or estimate for how much it will cost.

The last regularly operated train to cross the bridge came on June 30, 1965, according to Bob Withers, a local train historian and retired Herald-Dispatch reporter. It was used a few times after that by work crews taking up sections of track. It is unknown when it was built, he said.

Also Tuesday, CSXT announced that it was making a separate $25,000 cash donation to the Rahall Transportation Institute for rail research. The private donation will be matched by the state, said CSXT CEO Michael Ward.

"We love the work that RTI does here because they take a very practical approach to things, not just for research's sake or to create a paper," Ward said. "They try to create things that improve safety and improve efficiency. It's one of the leading transportation institutes in the nation, and we're glad to support it."

U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said, "With scarce federal resources we all know exist today, this type of partnership with the private sector is becoming even more crucial if we are going to move our economy forward and improve the safety of our people."

The Rahall Transportation Institute has now accumulated $440,000 in private funds for its rail research center, which will be known as the Innovation Technology Rail Assistance Center, Plymale said.

"This money is gaining interest as we speak," he said. "The idea is to only spend the interest, but not until we reach $1 million. We're internally funding rail research now. We would like to dedicate these funds to a researcher that we can bring in to strengthen what we're doing."

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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