Change may help complete Rte. 219 Sooner

Posted on August 2nd, 2012

The Bradford Era (Aug 2, 2012)

Changes to the recently passed federal transportation bill have one advocacy agency hoping that the completion of U.S. Route 219 through western Pennsylvania will be possible in the near future.

Meg Lauerman, project manager at Continental 1 — a binational agency that raises awareness and advocates for the completion of Route 219 as a trade corridor from Toronto, Canada, to Miami, Fla. — explained Wednesday that completing 219 “is a marathon, not a sprint.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track the permitting process for the work in southern Pennsylvania, citing the overall importance of the project. On Wednesday, he explained to The Era that he will continue to push for the highway’s completion.v

“I fought to include a provision in the recently passed transportation bill that will give Pennsylvania more flexibility for funding transportation projects like Route 219,” said Casey, “and I’ll continue to pursue ways to move the project forward because of the positive impact it will have on the people and economies of communities like Bradford.”

The project has been ongoing for a bout 40 years, according to Continental 1, and more progress has been made in the last decade than in the three before it.

“We have three major projects” in this area, Lauerman explained, completing the four-lane highway in New York state, completing it from Interstate 86 in New York to Interstate 80 in the DuBois area, and completing 219 in the Somerset area.

“One of the largest projects went from being in the wings to being fast tracked,” Lauerman said, explaining the Somerset portion could go out for bid this year. “We’re super energized about that.”

The momentum came from language in the recently passed federal transportation bill which allows for toll credits to be used for a state’s match on highway construction projects in the Appalachian Development Highway System. Toll credits are earned by states spending money to improve toll roads. This essentially means the project will be 100 percent federally funded.

The prior transportation funding formula would have been 80 percent federal funds, and 20 percent state funding. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has said this change gives a green flag to completing Route 219 from Somerset to Interstate 68 in Maryland.

“We know that the state is saying there’s not a lot of money,” she acknowledged, but added, “good times, and bad times, don’t last forever.“What we want to do is get the I-86 to I-80 project in the pipeline,” Lauerman said. She cited support from state Sen. John Rafferty, R-Collegeville, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and from state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R Brockway, and encouraged local residents to lobby their local, state and federal lawmakers to support completing Route 219 as well.

“It’s not enough just to have bypasses,” she said, referring to the sections of 219 bypassing Bradford and Johnsonburg. “What we need is the four lane that is going to have the access, the draw, the economic development.”

Lauerman said Continental 1 is a regional agency, drawing support from Canada, New York state and Pennsylvania. Officials in those areas are also lobbying for the completion of 219 through western Pennsylvania. “It’s a local project with international significance,” she said. “They want it as much as we do.“

Western Pennsylvania is in need of this transportation infrastructure that other states already have,” she said, “and that we need to keep competitive. We need to keep the awareness really high on the federal level to show the need and continue on” completing the four-lane highway.“

We very much want people to be involved more. Sign up as supporters on our website. There’s a lot to be done in the community. We need to show support on every level. Building roads is the highest return on our investment,” Lauerman added. “We need to show a public desire for the highway.”

Era Associate Editor