PennDOT expects numerous bids for 219 work

Posted on June 21st, 2013

The Tribune-Democrat (June 21, 2013)

SOMERSET — With more than $300 million and all of the required state and federal permits in place, construction of the first phase of a four-lane limited access Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale has been put out for bid.

Route 219 is the largest new road-building project currently in the state.

Officials expect a large number of contractors to submit bid proposals by the July 25 deadline when bids will be opened, said Brad Brumbaugh, Penn­DOT’s assistant district executive for construction.

“I think we’ll get a good number of bidders, but with the size of the contracts, they’ll be from bigger contractors,” Brumbaugh said.

Bidders are expected to come not only from this region, but also from many other areas, he said.

“I think there is every reason to believe there will be bidders from out of state,” Brumbaugh said.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said he has heard the new highway construction project is close to being the largest on the East Coast and possibly the nation this summer.

“We’re expecting to get some really good bids,” Vatavuk said.

The four-year project will be bid in three phases. Earthwork and grading will be coupled with construction of some structures near the southern interchange in the first phase.

Construction of the bulk of the bridge structures will make up phase II, which will be bid late next year, Brumbaugh said.

Highway paving will be the bulk of the work in the third phase.

Review of the bids will take some time, PennDOT spokeswoman Tara Callahan-Henry said. Notice for the winning contractors to proceed is anticipated in late September.

Groundbreaking and the start of work likely will begin in September, Brumbaugh said.

“They can do earth work in the winter,” he said.

Vatavuk, elected in the mid-2000s on a promise to see the Meyersdale to Somerset leg of Route 219 completed, said he plans to be in Hollidaysburg when PennDOT holds a pre-bid meeting on Tuesday.

The session will involve PennDOT engineers outlining the project to potential bidders and providing an opportunity for bidders to ask questions and have points clarified, Vatavuk said.

When completed, the project will provide a four-lane limited access highway from north of Ebensburg to Meyersdale, at the southern tip of Somerset County.

Route 219 supporters have been working on finding the money needed for the highway for years, said G. Henry Cook of Meyersdale, president of Somerset Trust Co. and a second-generation Route 219 supporter.

“It is absolutely with a sense of relief and joy for those of us who have worked on this for decades that we have reached this point,” Cook said Friday.

The highway conveys a message of perseverance, said Cook. He said his father saw the economic value of a modern highway system decades ago and started working for Route 219 in the 1970s.

“There were so many agencies to go through and the game has changed so many times,” Cook said.

Despite the joy of seeing work on the Meyersdale-Somerset section soon to get underway, Cook said that in light of the economic benefit, a completed Route 219 through Pennsylvania could bring benefits to many.

“It’s a major battle won, but we still have some miles to go,” he said.

Funding is still elusive for the short stretch of the highway from south of Meyersdale to the state line and Interstate 68 in Maryland, Cook said. Even more elusive is funding for a four-lane Route 219 through northern Cambria County and points north, he said.

Meanwhile, because construction of the southern leg of the highway is being done “off line,” the impact on traffic will be minimal, Callahan-Henry said.

“The contractor will have a few locations where they will be crossing existing 219 or other side roads with equipment from time to time,” she said. “But it would require only short-term traffic disruptions.”

The most significant impact will be at the southern end at Meyersdale, where the new interchange work will be performed using phased construction, Callahan-Henry said.

By Kathy Mellott