Editorial | Push harder to complete Route 219

Posted on July 18th, 2015

Editorial, Tribune-Democrat

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We are so close, but if Congress has its way, we’ll be so far away.

When the Somerset-to-Meyersdale project of Route 219 is completed, there will only be an eight-mile section of unfinished highway until it can link with Interstate 68 in Maryland.

But Map-21, a federal transportation bill set to expire July 31, could become an almost insurmountable hurdle to the completion of that section.

Phase two of the three-phase Meyersdale project is well underway. General contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. hopes to begin pouring concrete in 2016. The section is scheduled to be open to traffic by late 2017 or early 2018.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently committed $90 million for design, right-of-way acquisition and construction to align 219 with I-68 and to build an interchange at the I-68 junction.

A finish line was in sight.

But government may have dashed our dream.

Although Map-21 provided a funding stream for the Meyersdale work, it also altered how Appalachian Development Highway System monies will be spent.

Instead of designating spending for Appalachian system projects only, under which Route 219 fell, Map-21 will allow states to distribute dollars for any road project.

That likely will push Route 219, with a price tag of $300 million for the remaining portion, far down the list of highway projects, Vince Greenland, PennDOT’s assistant District 9 executive designer, told reporter Kecia Bal.

Somerset County President Commissioner John Vatavuk is disappointed with the Map-21 language.

“The change to Map-21 opened (competition for ADHS money) to bridge repairs, other roads, just about anything as long as it’s a state road,” Vatavuk said. “Our best hope would be to have ADHS funding restored strictly for ADHS.”

Also, any savings from construction will be plowed back into ADHS funding for state projects, Greenland said.

Fay has already saved about $100 million during  phase one and two.

If a savings is realized on a particular ongoing project, that money should stay with the undertaking until its completion.

Only then should the leftover funds be put into a statewide pool.

Vatavuk and other local leaders traveled to Washington, D.C., to ask that the language that broadened Map-21 funding be reverted back.

We applaud their effort, but they must ratchet up the pressure. The area delegation must work harder and longer, and make its voice louder to convince legislators to fund completion of Route 219. The delegation must recruit more people – legislators, civic leaders, business owners – and become an army of proponents that refuses to back down.

As we editorialized this past week, we believe that a completed Route 219 would be an economic boon to our region. Interstate commerce could flow from Cambria and Somerset counties to Maryland, West Virginia and points beyond.

Economic impact, we believe, should be a vital criteria for highway funding.

Brenda Smith, executive director of the Greater Cumberland Committee, said construction of the 219-to-I-68 link could create 20,000 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent positions.

Those two facts alone should keep Route 219 high on the list for funding.

Eight short miles. But if Map-21 language is not changed, it may as well be 80, or 800.