Designing a Connection through Turtle Creek Valley

Three possible routes have been identified for the Turtle Creek Connector Trail, which will connect the communities of the Turtle Creek Valley to commercial areas, employment centers, and regional attractions. This comes after a two-year feasibility study, coordinated by Allegheny County with input from regional stakeholders.

Once complete, the 9-mile, on- and off-road trail will link the Great Allegheny Passage with the Westmoreland Heritage Trail (WHT) , from Carrie Blast Furnace National Historic Landmark to Trafford Borough. This corridor also will connect to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) over a rehabilitation of the Carrie Furnace Hot Metal Bridge in Rankin Borough.

Map of possible Turtle Creek Connector Trail routes. Courtesy of Allegheny County.

The Turtle Creek Connector project checks all the right trail boxes. It not only links two regionally significant trails which already benefit from visitor traffic, but also has the potential to be truly transformational to the communities of the Turtle Creek Valley. With the development of the Connector, residents will have options to reach destinations through a robust system of cycling, walking, transit, and micro-mobility.

Stakeholders are already envisioning the catalyzing impacts of trail development. Public engagement during this phase of the project has repeatedly identified the role trail development can play in revitalizing adjacent spaces. In the long term, communities can employ the trail as a way to promote identity and continuity throughout their neighborhoods. While this phase of development focuses on a single corridor, future ‘spurs’ can provide approachable access to historic and cultural destinations in each community.

Members of PEC and Friends of the Riverfront explain the Turtle Creek Connector Trail project to members of the public during an outreach event at Carrie Blast Furnace National Historic Landmark.

Beyond its role in linking the GAP and WHT, the Turtle Creek Connector is a step in realizing the vision of other long-distance trail corridors, like the Trans Allegheny Trails and the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail — both participating corridors of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition.

The project currently is in the design and engineering phase, which includes the initial step of determining the primary alignment of the connector. This summer, PEC, in partnership with Friends of the Riverfront and Allegheny County, have engaged the public at numerous community events to get their preferences for three possible routes. People tended to prefer routes that avoided roads with a lot of vehicle traffic, though those sections would offer protected bike lines that provide a physical barrier between cyclists and traffic. The routes along less busy roads proposed shared bike lanes.

Members of the public also gave feedback on what kind of amenities they’d like the Turtle Creek trail to provide access to: residential areas, neighborhood businesses, transit, and nature or other recreation spaces. Many said they are excited by the link to the Westmoreland Heritage Trail for recreation and transit to work. The trail would allow more people easier transportation to Pittsburgh Regional Transit buses with bike racks. One young respondent looked forward to the possibility of biking to his grandma’s house.

PEC’s Chris Corbran prepares for a public outreach event to discuss the Turtle Creek Connector Trail project.

These community events also provided an opportunity to educate people about bike infrastructure and trail work. We discussed the differences between, for example, a shared bike lane and a protected bike lane and handed out brochures on the trails around Pittsburgh. Friends of the Riverfront also informed the public about a separate trail project that would expand the Duck Hollow Trail from Hazelwood to the Carrie Blast Furnace National Historic Landmark, where it would connect to the Turtle Creek Trail.

Last year, the county published a feasibility study for the Turtle Creek Connector Trail project. The report noted the trail’s importance for boosting the health and vitality of the communities through which it passes.

“By establishing a system linkage between the WHT and the GAP, citizens in the region will be provided with a physical and thereby an economic connection between the economically disadvantaged communities of the Turtle Creek Valley and surrounding communities,” the report said. It also noted that the development of non-motorized, active transportation options “will help meet community health initiatives” in the Turtle Creek Valley for residents who are medically underserved.

A phased approach will be considered as this project advances towards the implementation. Projects of this scale and complexity require the continued coordination of public, private, and non-governmental partners, all working to provide a safe and vital asset to the communities of the Turtle Creek Valley.

The project team will continue to engage the public in the months ahead, collecting comments and preferences about the three possible trail routes. Milestones are posted on the Turtle Creek Connector Trail profile page hosted by Friends of the Riverfront. A link at the bottom of the page allows for the submission of questions.

Funding for this project was provided by the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County (RAAC)’s Trail Development Fund, which was made possible via the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021.