Trails leader hopes East Brady Tunnel can open next year

Clarion County commissioners on Tuesday approved a grant request to the Department of Community and Natural Resources for the East Brady Tunnel project.

The amount of the grant wasn’t specified.

Chris Ziegler, executive director of the Armstrong Trails, hopes to get the tunnel open next year.

“I have been working on a funding strategy to get the tunnel completed at a faster pace,” said Ziegler, who added that the DCNR’s Keystone grant “would be a bigger pot of money than would be available for non-profits.”

“I do have $350,000 to use as a match. That was awarded to Crawford County through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC),” said Ziegler.

The commissioners also approved Ziegler’s letter of interest for a $1.5 million grant. She said there is no commitment at this time.

“As a non-profit we cannot apply. It has to be a municipality,” said Ziegler. “The money would go into Clarion County and I would do all of the paperwork.”

The grant would be for the fourth phase of the project, and the money will be used for the tunnel liner.

“That is the most important piece of the puzzle. It will stabilize the sides and the roof,” said Ziegler. “The last phase will be all of the incidental things that would focus on Shotcrete in the center and the surface going through it.”

The total cost of the project is $9 million.

“There is a lot of interest in the project. We did an impromptu walk in 18 degree weather and had 50 people show up,” Ziegler said. She added that a benefit concert is planned July 31 at the tunnel.

The 36-mile long Armstrong Trail is located on the former Allegheny Valley Railroad line along the eastern bank of the Allegheny River in Armstrong and Clarion counties. Thirty miles of the trail, from Rosston to East Brady, is a crushed limestone surface with paved sections in Ford City and Kittanning.

The tunnel was originally built because the old railroad line that ran next to the Allegheny River was subject to landslides. The construction of the tunnel shaved 12 miles off the river route when it was opened in 1915.