U.S Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg and Lehigh Valley Congresswoman Susan Wild were in Allentown Friday to congratulate the area on the award to The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission of a $21.1 million grant to build a scenic commuter trail and road from the Allentown’s Lehigh Riverfront into Whitehall Township.
The money, awarded through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Transportation Discretionary Grant program, will help fund a $55.6 million project creating a robust multimodal commuting, emergency management, and equitable access corridor connecting urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods along a three-mile stretch from Hamilton Street in Allentown, beyond Route 22, and into Whitehall Township.
Mayor Ray O’Connell told the approximately 100 people in attendance at an afternoon news conference that “persistence had indeed paid off.”
It was the sixth consecutive year the LVPC has applied for the grant, but the first time the Lehigh Valley was approved for funding in an extremely competitive grant process that often funnels most of the money to larger cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York and San Francisco.
The LVPC, with help from dozens of businesses, government and community partners, applied for the federal grant money to be added to the $34.4 million in matching funds which includes money from state grants, the City of Allentown and The Waterfront Development Company, which is owned by Jaindl Enterprises, owns the right-of-way and is building a $425 million business and residential park along Allentown’s riverfront.
Riverside Drive would extend from the Hamilton Street bridge in Allentown, through the Waterfront project, beyond Route 22 and north into Whitehall Township. The first roughly milelong section of the project would be a two-lane road, and ten-foot paved path for pedestrian, bicycle and wheelchair use, extending from Hamilton Street in Allentown to Wood Street in Whitehall Township.
A section extending north of Wood Street would be allow only trail and emergency vehicle access.
The section through the Waterfront would include a Riverwalk outside of several proposed office buildings, restaurants and hundreds of riverfront apartments. The Riverwalk will overlook the Lehigh River, connecting two outdoor plazas and an amphitheater, while the corridor connects to other regional trails including the Jordan Creek Greenway Trail, Northern Lehigh Rail Trail, Lehigh River Water Trail, Slate Heritage Trail, 911 Memorial Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Among the biggest advantages is that it would help close the largest gap left in the D&L Trail.
Organizers more than 20 years ago began with an ambitious mission to create a 165-mile scenic pathway from Bristol, north of Philadelphia, to just outside Wilkes-Barre. Today, most of the trail is open and passable by foot and bike, and according to the D&L Trail website, only the section that passes through Allentown is listed as “unimproved, open, travel at your own risk.”