Comments eyed from freight haulers on Route 219 improvements

Posted on December 11th, 2014

Improvements are being eyed for U.S. Route 219, but key to making those a reality are comments from the area’s freight haulers.

Continental 1 officials are hoping to be included in the state’s transportation improvement plan, and that enough comments are submitted to the state government by this coming Monday.

“They’ve (state government) never really reached out to companies before. Literally, it’s a way to get McKean County on the map for funding,” said Meg Lauerman, Continental 1 executive director, on Wednesday afternoon.

In the region, two projects are being looked at — the intersection of routes 219 and 770, and Lewis Run at the intersection of Route 219, which Lauerman calls “truck access inadequate.”

What’s more, Route 219 poses safety concerns, she said. Individuals are aware of the accidents on the major highway, including where the road goes from two lanes to four lanes and also through the Allegheny National Forest, Lauerman said.

“This analysis is an important step to achieve high prioritization for Route 219 improvement projects, and support the north-south trade corridor,” Lauerman said in an email. “Submitting the critical areas of Route 219 to be addressed from your perspective, personal or professional, will help in prioritizing Route 219 projects. Are there places where your vehicles have difficulty getting on to 219? Are there points where your vehicles frequently encounter congestion? Are there places that your drivers feel are particularly dangerous?”

Improvements to the road would mean increasing the speed and efficiency that freight moves into, out of and through the state, according to Lauerman. That would benefit the economy and transportation flow, she said.

A better Route 219 is a dream for Dustin Craig, plant manager of Graham Packaging in the Bradford area.

“We have a situation where freight out of our area for local manufacturing is cumbersome due to freight rates and costs,” Craig said. “Those businesses in Bradford have and continue to pay higher than industry standard freight costs due to the accessibility of our area. Most of our customers are located between the Buffalo/Rochester (N.Y.) area and the central Pennsylvania State College area. The trucking of our goods to those locations requires the drivers to traverse two lane roads with less than desirable topographic challenges that pass though several small communities which increases lane travel times and subsequently cost.”

But opening up Route 219 into a four-lane highway from Interstate 90 in New York state to Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania would bring much-improved accessibility for area freight haulers, he said.

“If this were to happen multiple opportunities would be created,” Craig said. “You would see an increase in manufacturing opportunities as a result of more competitive freight costs in and out of our area.”

As it stands now, it’s a battle to decrease freight costs, Craig said.

The Bradford area plant spends about $3.7 million in freight a year, he said. Each week, the plant could have 65 to 190 trucks out on the road, Craig said.

A better Route 219 could also shift the focus for Graham Packaging — perhaps a new product line, Craig said.

And Graham Packaging isn’t the only one that could stand to benefit.

New industry could be brought into the region, bringing jobs, he said. The tax base would be added to as well, according to Craig.

“The economy in Bradford has been stagnant for years. What needs to happen is to generate a condition that spurs growth … accessibility,” Craig said. “We have and continue to be a shrinking population that leaves little to no opportunities in this area for our children. Why, because careers are not readily available in our community. Accessibility though improved infrastructure is the way to open our area to development.

“The investment into (Route) 219 would pay back our communities in spades. We would see areas like Ellicottville, N.Y., Bradford, Johnsonburg and Ridgway all benefit greatly from improved accessibility to northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York state.”

However, Route 219 improvements are not set in stone.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marla Fannin said that specific sites would need to be identified on Route 219 based on study, environmental impacts, customer/stakeholder feedback and concerns brought forth by planning partners, the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission in Ridgway and Continental 1.

“These entities would be looking at safety, access and mobility issues/concerns. Locations could then be prioritized and potentially placed on the 12-year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP),” Fannin said.

Lauerman is urging transportation and logistics personnel to send comments to the state’s Brian Wall at bwall@pa.gov and mlauerman@continental1.org. She is asking people to describe difficulties with mobility, access and safety on Route 219 and to suggest improvements. The public comment period will close on Monday.