JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Elected officials and civic leaders on Friday celebrated what they described as the linchpin funding for Johnstown’s proposed Iron to Arts Corridor project during a press conference at the city’s train station.

Johnstown recently learned it will receive $24,448,164 in U.S. Department of Transportation Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant money. The funds will be used to repair and modernize the Johnstown train station, the Johnstown Inclined Plane, Cambria County Transit Authority’s Downtown Intermodal Transportation Center and Johnstown’s Main Street.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, contrasted the announcement of the funding to the dark days the city has endured.

“People of this city deserve this,” Casey said. “They have suffered long and hard over all those trials, all those valleys, all of those days when they were in the valley instead of the mountaintop – so the people of this city deserve this funding, and they deserve more of it. That’s why we’re going to come back on future dates, first to talk about, and then to plan, and then to build so many more infrastructure projects.”

All total, $53 million has been secured for the Iron to Arts Corridor, with additional funds coming from state, local, federal, philanthropic and Amtrak sources.

The proposed corridor will pass through Old Conemaugh Borough, downtown Johnstown, Prospect, Minersville and Cambria City, going by the Center for Metal Arts, Peoples Natural Gas Park, the Johnstown Flood Museum, the Stone Bridge and Bottle Works. It will also broadly encompass nearby areas, including Main Street and the Inclined Plane.

Like Casey, Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic talked about the vision of a new Johnstown featuring opportunities for outdoor recreation, arts and history, in comparison to the past and present, during which the city has been known for the loss of the steel industry, economic hard times, blight, population decline and floods.

“However, Johnstown and its residents are resilient,” Janakovic said, “and I can guarantee you today that we are ready and poised to rebuild a new and better Johnstown. Johnstown is on the verge of becoming glorious once again.”

The RAISE funding is the largest grant ever received by Johnstown. It was also the biggest grant awarded to any applicant in the commonwealth during this year’s round of funding, with Allentown getting $21 million and the Philadelphia-area Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) getting $15 million for projects.

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.

Mark Pasquerilla, Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership chairman, called RAISE “one of the most nationally competitive grants in the federal government,” with the money intended to improve infrastructure, strengthen supply chains, advance equity, increase safety and combat climate change.

Local officials credited cooperation among numerous groups, including Vision Together 2025, Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership, Cambria County Planning Commission, Cambria County Transit Authority, Johnstown Area Heritage Association and Johnstown Area Regional Industries, for the success of the application.

Could award boost passenger rail?

The JAHA-owned train station, which opened in 1916, is seen as the centerpiece – a transportation and tourism hub – in the Iron to Arts plan. More than $11 million in RAISE money is expected to be used for improving the station.

Vision Together 2025 Chairman William Polacek spoke about the symbolism of the train station in Johnstown’s past and future.

“That hope my grandmother and grandfather felt when they came to this country, and this town, and this train station – that resiliency still lives on because this council, this senator, these congressmen, these state legislators, this community, school district and business leadership never quit,” Polacek said.

Supporters of the Iron to Arts Corridor project are optimistic that improvements to the train station might lead Amtrak to add increased passenger rail service in western Pennsylvania.

“I think the more we can expand and improve upon what Amtrak does every day is important,” Casey said. “I have a chance – usually once a week most weeks, on the way down and the way back from Pennsylvania – to be able to ride Amtrak, so it would be nice to be able to have more opportunities to do that throughout the state. I’m just grateful that Amtrak’s making an even greater commitment not just here in Pennsylvania, but across the country.”

Johnstown is also hoping to receive funding through the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden, a Democrat, earlier this week.

“As you can tell, the city of Johnstown is very multi-modal,” Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “We have the train station. We have the beautiful parks. We have the Inclined Plane. We have the pathways. We have the bike paths.

“This is really the community we would like to build through this infrastructure bill. It’s to provide options for the people of Pennsylvania. Everybody should have options to take the mode of transportation that they’re interested in, whether they want to drive, take the public transit, bike or walk to where they wanted to get to, to their communities, to their friends, to their families. They should have that option.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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