Casey asks engineers to speed up highway permits

Posted on July 31st, 2012

Tribune-Democrat (July 31, 2012)

SOMERSET — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey would like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track its permit-issuing process so work can begin soon on expansion of Route 219 between Somerset and Meyersdale.

He made the request to the corps’ Pittsburgh District engineer, Col. William Graham, in a letter released Tuesday.

The corps is evaluating the request made by PennDOT to expand what is now a winding two-lane road into a four-lane highway. The evaluation process could take until the end of this year or early next year.

Casey offered to help expedite it by getting the permits finalized before then.

“It took a long time and a lot of hard work to get the Route 219 project to this point, and it’s time that the final approvals are in place so it can move forward,” Casey said. “The Route 219 project will create jobs and make major improvements to western Pennsylvania’s infrastructure, so I’m encouraging the Army corps to expedite the review of these permits so work can begin.”

Corps officials are evaluating what impact the construction would have on wetlands, fish habitats, safety, socio­economic well-being and other areas.

“There are a full sheet of public-interest factors,” said Scott Hans, the Pittsburgh District’s regulatory branch chief. “It’s really broad what we have to consider.”

The Route 219 project began moving forward in July when the federal government eliminated language in its transportation bill that prohibited Pennsylvania from using toll credits as its matching share for financing the work.

Toll credits are accumulated by states when they construct and maintain roads without federal assistance.

Also, states can now increase their federal cost share on Appalachian Development Highway System projects from 80 percent to 100 percent. The stretch of Route 219 to be expanded is part of the Appalachian system.