Maryland offers to take planning lead on Pa.’s U.S. 219 expansion project

Posted on April 15th, 2013

Cumberland Times-News (April 15, 2013)

Stretch between Meyersdale, interstate considered vital to North-South Highway

CUMBERLAND — Maryland is offering some help to Pennsylvania to get planning for a portion of the North-South Highway project in Pennsylvania moving again, according to a March 28 letter from Gov. Martin O’Malley to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

The portion of the project in question is planning for expansion of U.S. Route 219 between Interstate 68 and Meyersdale, Pa., a key portion of the North-South Highway.

O’Malley said Maryland would take the lead on the planning portion of the project and use Maryland funds to help plan the project in Pennsylvania. Then, when Pennsylvania is ready to move to design and construction, it could move quickly. If Maryland has the funding to move first, it could do so, because state officials would know where the Maryland road would meet the Pennsylvania road.

“We would both be in a position to move independently,” once planning is completed, said David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. The two states have been working on the project since 2002.

O’Malley said he would use Maryland’s Appalachian Development Highway System funds to pay for the planning work in Pennsylvania.

“Absolutely, yes, the funds can be used,” said Buck.

MDOT officials are now waiting for a response from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials on O’Malley’s offer. It’s unclear how much money Maryland would spend to fund the planning work.

The planning is currently on hold because Pennsylvania has decided not to fund the project.

If Maryland is to take over the planning portion of the project, “Maryland will need a fully participatory partnership from PennDOT,” O’Malley wrote.

The offer would provide “planning documentation” and put Pennsylvania in a position to move quickly to further phases of the project “when this area becomes a priority for PennDOT,” O’Malley said in the letter.

Local supporters of the highway project are happy with O’Malley’s move.

“This is a bold and an unprecedented offer of bistate, bipartisan cooperation seeking to complete the last segment of the Appalachian Development Highway System Corridor ‘N’ (U.S .219) from I-68 in Maryland, to Meyersdale, Pa.,” said Dave Moe, coordinator of the North-South Appalachian Highway Project.

“This project has a history of starts and stops since 1999. Most recently, the 219 corridor was identified by a four-state coalition … in a North-South Feasibility Study as having the highest potential for job creation in the region,” Moe said in a news release from The Greater Cumberland Committee.

“This offer by Maryland to fund the planning and environmental review processes is unprecedented. … It is a major step in completing 219 to I-68, which is a goal that I share with Congressman Bill Shuster. It’s an offer we wouldn’t think Governor Corbett could refuse,” said Somerset County Commission Chairman John Vatavuk.

The highway project is estimated to provide 30,000 permanent and construction-related jobs in the region. The concept began in 1998 and a feasibility study concluded in 2001.

The proposed road would run from I-68 near Cumberland south nearly parallel to existing U.S. Route 220 to Corridor H in Grant County, W.Va., and north into Pennsylvania from U.S. Route 219 up to the turnpike.

By Matthew Bieniek