Plodding along Route 219

Posted on October 21st, 2010

— Longtime readers of this newspaper certainly envisioned a four-lane Route 219 finished far beyond its current scope. Some even believed it would be well on its way to connecting New York and Maryland – the ultimate goal and something that might happen one day – far, far into the future.

But for now, the stalemate has been frustrating, ending at Carrolltown in the north and below Somerset in the south.

Promises of funding have been made, and then broken. Time and again.

Planning has moved forward, only to be put on hold. Time and again.

The whole concept has even been the butt of jokes.

But we commend officials who last week said they won’t allow a current $35 million funding gap slow movement toward completion of Route 219 south from Somerset to the Maryland line and Interstate 68.

Included among those determined officials are the highway brain trust of PennDOT, people such as Jim Pruss.

Pruss, an engineer with PennDOT’s District 9, told members of the North/South Appalachian Highway Project that should the money become available, the state would be in position to seek bids within a year for the first of three construction phases.

That makes sense.

“Once our funding is in place, we want to have the project ready so we can move forward,” Pruss said.

Here’s what has been happening of late:

The corridor is part of the Appalachian Highway System, meaning the federal government, through the Appalachian Regional Commission, will fund 80 percent of the $300 million anticipated cost.

However, the state, because of its ongoing funding crisis, has been unable to free up its $35 million share.

When movement on that will happen is anybody’s guess. But a four-lane 219, even completed only to the Maryland line, holds promise of thousands of jobs and new businesses and industries.

Those who travel frequently on I-95 through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and into Florida bear witness to the thriving business communities that can spring up along a major highway.

Even the neighboring Altoona-Logan Township area has benefited greatly from I-99.

Henry Cook of Somerset Trust Co., a longtime advocate of an improved Route 219, told members of the Appalachian Highway Project meeting at Meyersdale that the region has been very close to the Route 219 improvement several times over the past three decades.

“It’s a very frustrating process,” he said.

He called Route 219 the most studied corridor in the universe.

Who can say he’s wrong?

We commend and thank people such as Pruss and Cook for keeping this project in the public’s eye.

The project is too valuable to be abandoned. A big part of our economic future could very well depend on it.