Pa ‘missing link’ in Continental 1

Posted on April 19th, 2012

The Courier Express (April 18, 2012)

We are all one big region and the world is getting smaller.

That was the message Meg Lauerman, project manager for Continental 1, gave Tuesday at a luncheon sponsored by the Greater DuBois Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development and the DuBois Rotary Tuesday at the DuBois Country Club. She said that regionalism and jobs go hand in hand with a major highway.

Lauerman said about 50 years ago, the Route 219 Association started and groups started meeting and said, “We need a decent highway.”

About ten years ago, regionalism and lowered costs and the idea of working together came about and they said, “Here we are in the downtrodden part of the country. We don’t have much, our population is falling and we don’t have the political clout because our population is falling, but if we work together, we do have it, we do have the population and that strong voice.”
And that is how the idea of Continental 1 came about, she said. It is a 1,500-mile highway that is 86 percent complete and will provide a direct route from Toronto, Canada, to Miami, Fla.

“All that is missing is that one piece,” she said. “And the lion’s share of construction is right here in Pennsylvania.”

“So why is it a big deal?” she asked. “Because when these huge freighters come across from China and India, a lot of these ships aren’t going to the West Coast anymore. They are going to come in to ports using the Panama Canal and Miami and come in through Canada now.

“What we don’t have now is a highway and don’t have a lot of traffic,” she said. “We need the jobs and they can give us the jobs.”
How will it give us jobs? Through logistic centers, she said. Think of 10 million toothpicks being shipped here. They need to be spread out, so a distribution center is built for 30 jobs. Then 50 centers are built.

“Are they’re just distribution centers?” she asked. “No. And if I come to work here, I’m going to bring my husband and kids and raise my family. All this comes about because of connections, because of having a highway here.”

Think of a trip to Disney World. “What is the most fuel efficient way to get there?” she asked. “A four-lane highway. It is also safer than a two-lane highway.”

The Somerset region is shovel-ready for its 11-mile portion of the project to turn the two-lane highway into four lanes, Lauerman said. The problem? The $35 million the state must come up with.

“This puts even more pressure on the state and federal governments for the DuBois and Bradford areas,” Lauerman said.
The best way to help, Lauerman said, is to “get your support out there.”

“Show your support,” she said. “Everyone is important.”

Lauerman suggested visting the Continental 1 website and becoming a partner. Write a letter of support, she said.

“Letters make a big difference,” she said. “They are kind of old school but let Congressman Thompson know what is supported. Say to him, ‘I get it that we are all part of a bigger region’ and that ‘we need to stick together.'”

Lauerman said Continental 1 also needs more funding.

“We made a three-year grant last five years,” she said. “But we can definitely use more private funds, as well.”

“The big reason we have been so successful is because we talk the same way to everyone,” Lauerman said.

But the biggest game changer, according to Lauerman, is interest.

“Just talking about it,” she said. “When you simply say, ‘We need a highway.’ that is the biggest difference.”

Lauerman said her group does surveys and, according to the latest one, 86 percent want the highway.

“I always get asked when I talk to a group in Pennsylvania, ‘Oh the group in New York doesn’t want this,'” she said. “There will always be one person out of 100 that is against progress.

“But Canada is growing 10 percent in population every year. It is the biggest trading partner with every state,” she said. “Canadians love to travel and they are eco-friendly.”

Nancy Micks, CEO of the chamber, asked how to sell the concept of the highway when times are so tough right now economically.

“Because,” Lauerman said, “transportation creates more jobs than anything else.”

Lauerman also said there is a study being done right now to find out what the region has lost by not having the highway finished.

“It’s the type of study that’s not typically done,” she said.

Community Development and Regional Planning Director Amy Kessler of the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission said transportation money is something that gets talked about over and over again and, right now, nothing is happening on a state or federal level.

Kessler estimates the Bradford/DuBois portion of the project will cost the state around $1 billion. She said if the project were to start today, it would probably take 10 to 15 years just to get through the environmental regulations.

Lauerman said she knows those kinds of numbers throw people into a panic, but they need to “look at the big picture” and that they would be “broken down” over a time period.

Micks said people also need to get away from the “me” mentality.

“You can’t look at it as ‘What’s in it for me?’ anymore,” she said. “We are doing this for our children and grandchildren. This has to start at the roots of the state.

“The bottom line is we can’t put our heads in a hole anymore,” Micks said. “Our goal is to put as much information out there as we can.”