The project to create a pedestrian tunnel under Route 381 in Ohiopyle to help people safely access the state park’s iconic falls was honored last week with an award for its innovative design.
The state Department of Transportation announced Wednesday it received the regional America’s Transportation Award from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials for the $12.8 million Ohiopyle Multimodal Gateway Project that was completed last year.
“It is always gratifying when PennDOT is recognized for our efforts,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “We are proud that our Ohiopyle project to improve accessibility to this magnificent state park has received this prestigious award from AASHTO.”
The project was designed to improve access for visitors to Ohiopyle State Park by allowing them to cross beneath Route 381 from an expanded parking lot to get to the visitors center perched above the Youghiogheny River. It won in the category for “Community Development/Quality of Life” by providing safer options for pedestrians, bicyclists and kayakers to get to the centerpiece of the 20,500-acre state park. Construction began in November 2018 and was supposed to be completed by Memorial Day last year, but it was delayed slightly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the agency is “thankful” for the work by PennDOT to make the area safer for people visiting Ohiopyle.
“PennDOT’s work helped improve access and flow at a very busy intersection of one of Pennsylvania’s most popular state parks,” Adams Dunn said. “This allowed pedestrians, people in vehicles, bicyclists and boaters an even better ability to safely enjoy our parks in multiple ways. This is key as we continue to be welcoming of all guests looking to enjoy time at a beautiful state park.”
The award also lauded the bridge over the tunnel that offers wider lanes for vehicles traveling on Route 381, along with a larger shoulder for pedestrians and bicyclists. The project also expanded the parking lot and relocated the approach to Sugarloaf Road.
The project was a source of contention for some business owners in Ohiopyle as they were concerned that construction through the heart of the borough may drive away visitors. The vast majority of construction took place each year from Labor Day to Memorial Day when attendance is generally lower than the summer peak.
But attendance at the state park exploded last year during the height of the pandemic even as construction continued into the summer, with nearly 1.4 million visitors. Park officials have previously said expect that trend to continue this year with construction now complete and the pandemic still raging.
The award, which is sponsored by the AASHTO, AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recognizes state transportation departments and highlights projects that improve the quality of life for people who use them.