Plan includes funding for Route 219

Posted on August 13th, 2012

The Tribune-Democrat (August 13, 2012)

JOHNSTOWN — It’s official: The state Transportation Commission’s 2013 plan for highways and bridge improvements includes funding to make Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale a four-lane road.

Also in the inch-thick plan approved by the commission late last week is funding for significant improvements to Menoher Boulevard, where nearly $5.5 million will be spent to address the persistent rockslides and $2.5 million to resurface the busy artery leading into Johnstown.

Menoher is part of about a dozen highway and two dozen bridge projects to be undertaken in Cambria County during the next funding round. Somerset County will see eight highway and 34 bridge improvement projects.

By far the biggest project is the long-awaited Route 219 project, estimated to cost as much as $350 million.

That figure is unrelated to the total $58 million anticipated from the state annually for PennDOT’s 9th district over the next 12 years, said Dave Lybarger, PennDOT planning and program manager. The 9th district covers Cambria, Somerset, Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon and Fulton counties.

“The commissioners are very pleased and excited that the $350 million (project) has been included in the 12-year plan,” said Somerset County commissioners Chairman John Vatavuk.

“It makes it official that the state is committed to it. This should seal the deal on getting to Meyersdale from Somerset. We have been working on this project for 40 or 45 years. We look at it as an economic tool for Somerset County and Cambria County.”

Statewide, the updated 12-year transportation program anticipates $41.6 billion being available over the next 12 years for all modes of transportation, according to an announcement by PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch.

Steep decline

Despite inflation, the Route 219 allotment is 40 percent less than the total anticipated four years ago when the plan was last updated, said Jim Pruss, PennDOT’s manager for the project.

The 219 work will be funded largely using funds channeled through the Appalachian Regional Commission, a 13-state coalition formed in 1965 as part of the war on poverty.

The state’s 10 percent share will come from toll credits Pennsylvania has earned over the past several years for money spent on road improvements without using federal funds.

A stumbling block to the 219 work was a 2005 clause in the federal transportation bill disallowing use of toll credits for ARC-funded work. The state said it did not have the money for its share and the project came to a halt.

The federal legislation adopted two months ago removed the restrictions on toll credit use, allowing work to move forward.

The commission has the Route 219 work divided into several projects totaling $305 million, estimates that likely will increase as figures are refined, Pruss said. The remainder of the money will be included after the fiscal years change.

“All of the money is available; it’s not all on the program,” Pruss said.

Earth-moving work totaling about $160 million will be the first contract of the three-phase job, Pruss said. Construction of the five bridges and other elements will be the second contract, estimated to total $92 million, while paving the new alignment will run more than $50 million and will be the final contract.

The final design has been completed for some time. Bids for the first contract could be let late this year or early in 2013.

“We had a briefing with them almost a month ago and they indicated they were given the green light to get things ready,” said Dave Moe, coordinator for the North/South Appalachian Highway Coalition.

Still up in the air are three permits from the state Department of Environmental Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pruss and Moe said.

Money also will be spent on two stretches of Route 219 in Cambria County, according to the 12-year program.

A $2.2 million resurfacing of the highway through Northern Cambria Borough is on the list. And efforts are planned to ease congestion at the intersection of routes 219 and 553, also in the northern end of the county.

Meanwhile, work on the hill overlooking Menoher Boulevard will be significant, with the goal of eliminating the recurring slides, Pruss said.

“Recently, we’ve seen a slide every so often and we’ve been reacting,” he said.

“Now we’re going in there to make some permanent improvements.”

By Kathy Mellott

The Tribune-Democrat