Route 219 plan progress despite lack of funding

Posted on October 16th, 2010

By Kathy Mellott
MEYERSDALE — Officials say they won’t let a $35 million funding gap slow movement toward completion of Route 219 south from Somerset to the Maryland line.

PennDOT’s Jim Pruss on Thursday said that should the money become available, the state would be in position to seek bids within a year for the first of three construction phases.

Pruss, an engineer with PennDOT District 9, met with members of the North/South Appalachian Highway Project at the Meyersdale Community Center.

“Once our funding is in place, we want to have the project ready so we can move forward,” Pruss said.

The corridor is part of the Appalachian Highway System, meaning the federal government, through the Appalachian Regional Commission, will fund 80 percent of the $300 million anticipated cost.

The state, due to its ongoing funding crisis, has been unable to free up its $35 million share.

A four-lane limited access highway through southern Somerset County to the Maryland border is considered a vital element in economic growth, not only for Pennsylvania but for Maryland and West Virginia as well, officials said.

Pruss told more than 35 multistate highway representatives that District 9 has begun property acquisition along the route. All but three of 82 property claims will be finished by the end of the year, he said.

Henry Cook of Somerset Trust Co., a longtime advocate of an improved Route 219, told members of the Appalachian Highway Project that the region has been very close to the Route 219 improvement several times over the past three decades.

“We are about to have a new governor and a new secretary of transportation,” Cook said. “It’s a very frustrating process.”

He called Route 219 the most studied corridor in the universe.

Kim Leonard, owner of Aircon Engineering of Maryland, said the meeting was held in an effort to keep highway improvements on Route 219 in Pennsylvania and Maryland and Route 220 in Maryland and West Virginia in the public eye.

A recently updated economic-impact statement completed by Frostburg State University showed that completion of designated projects on the two highways could result in 10,000 new jobs for the region.

Colleen Peterson, executive director of the Greater Cumberland Committee, said the study shows the projects could generate 30,000 jobs with 20,000 in short-term construction.

Officials from Maryland and West Virginia said initiatives continue in their states toward the ultimate goal of improving routes 219 and 220.