JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The city of Johnstown was one of just three Pennsylvania communities to receive an influx of U.S. Department of Transportation funds this week to revitalize and connect commuter corridors.
In total dollars, the city was the state’s biggest winner, receiving about $24.5 million received this week to develop the two-mile-long Iron to Arts Corridor.
The only other Pennsylvania grant-winners in the cycle were Allentown and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the Philadelphia region’s public transportation system, which received $21 million and $15 million, respectively.
Approximately $1 billion in RAISE money was awarded to 90 projects in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. There was a 10-to-one ratio of requested funding to available dollars, according to a press release from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
In a teleconference Friday, federal officials said Johnstown captured the grant because the public-private partnership it outlined checked every box: addressing safety and transportation upgrades, quality of life and climate-conscious improvements.
“Iron to Arts will have a significant impact on Johnstown,” said Christopher Coes, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy. “This project will repair existing dilapidated transit structures, upgrade facilities to accommodate increased ridership and bring the Inclined Plane to usable condition again.”
In doing so, the colorful urban trail that will connect landmarks in five Johnstown neighborhoods will revitalize Main Street, bring life to industrial brownfields and create new jobs within one of Pennsylvania’s hardest-hit cities, said Coes, who serves under Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“This is exactly what we talk about when we say we want to build back better,” Coes said.
Coes said this week’s passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill will ensure the RAISE program will continue in 2022.
The total cost for the Iron to Arts Corridor project is just over $53 million. The $24.5 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant announced this week is being matched with committed funds from Amtrak, philanthropic support and millions of dollars in separate state and federal funds.
As announced Friday, it’ll provide funds to:
• Renovate the city’s historic train station to better position it as a regional rail and inter-city bus station and develop the space for addition uses.
• Support work already underway in a $15 million dollar Johnstown Inclined Plane renovation – the first since the mid-1980s.
• Add a 2-mile street, pedestrian and bicycle trail from Old Conemaugh Borough through Cambria City, Minersville, Prospect and downtown Johnstown – connecting the heart of the city to the September 11 National Trail, the Path of the Flood Trail and the Jim Mayer Riverswalk Trail.
• Support an effort to revamp Main Street with new walkways and other streetscape improvements.
• Renovate CamTran’s Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Johnstown, which hasn’t seen significant upgrades in decades.
Langerholc: Project helps bid for rail stop
The Cambria County Planning Commission, Cambria County Transit Authority, Johnstown Area Heritage Association, Vision Together 2025 and Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership worked with city leaders and the region’s state and federal lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., state Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr. and U.S. Rep. John Joyce, to make a pitch for the funds over the summer.
At the time, Johnstown’s council described it as one of the largest economic development applications that city leaders have ever requested.
“This is a new era,” said Langherholc, chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, of the impact the project will have. “And it’s a true testament to the people who live and work here ... who collaborated together on this project.”
Through the upgrades the train station will receive, a historic investment in Amtrak through the infrastructure bill and a close collaboration between lawmakers and PennDOT, Langerholc said he’s more optimistic than ever about the city’s goal of getting an additional Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg passenger train stop in Johnstown.
“Everything is moving in the right direction,” Langerholc said.