Route 219 link in Somerset got underway after long wait

Posted on December 30th, 2013

Tribune Democrat (December 30, 2013)

JOHNSTOWN — The Tribune-Democrat is counting down the top stories of 2013, as determined by voting by newsroom employees. Readers also were asked to vote online, and the results of that vote appears below.

After what some calculate as four decades of waiting, 2013 marked a milestone for Somerset and Cambria officials and many motorists in the region as work on the long awaited Route 219, a four lane limited access highway linking Somerset to Meyersdale, began.

The $300 plus million, 11-mile corridor is considered a major link with legislators and transportation experts considering the highway a major link in completion of the long awaited Continential One, an interstate stretching from Toronto to Miami.

The trade corridor is considered fundamentally important to improving economic growth along the extensive north-south route through multiple states.

Locally, officials have long said that the 11-mile stretch will be an economic boost to Somerset and Cambria counties, as well as for points south in Maryland.

Lack of a state share to the 80 percent of the Route 219 cost paid by the federal government caused a long delay for the work, but a change in federal legislation eliminate the requirement for help from PennDOT.

In late 2012, bids were opened for the first phase of the three-phase project and in early 2013 work began on cutting timber from the right of way.

A potential environmental issue with the endangered Indiana bat slowed progress on the highway planning, but permits for the work were issued after a deal was worked out to have the trees timbered during bat hibernation.

With federal and state environmental agencies on board, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg announced in May that permits were in place and work could proceed.

PennDOT got what it termed a “big break,” in the second week of July when bids for the first phase, earthmoving and some structure work came in lower than expected.

Joseph B. Fay Co. of Allegheny County came in with the lowest price at $110,468,000.

High school bands played and dignitaries used gold-painted shovels on Aug. 26 when the ceremonial groundbreaking for the four-lane took place near the spot where the existing superhighway connects with the winding two-lane at Somerset.

Earthmoving work officially began Sept. 16 and was moving full speed ahead as of last month. Crews at that time were working three shifts daily, four days a week, a PennDOT official said.

The work is focused just north of the Meyersdale bypass near Fogletown and along with earth work, involves ditching, digging and pipe laying.

The second phase will be bid and likely begin next year. It will involve construction of bridges and other structures.

The third and final phase, set for bid likely in 2015, will be for paving and all remaining work.

State officials estimate the highway could be open to traffic by late 2017 or 2018.

Meanwhile, Route 219 coverage by The Tribune-Democrat in 2013 included efforts by Somerset County and Maryland officials pushing for money to complete the last leg of the highway from Meyersdale to the state line and Interstate 68.

Maryland officials said they are ready to get started on the Maryland share of the link, but Pennsylvania officials have not earmarked money for the 7-mile stretch within this state.

By Kathy Mellott