Route 219 ‘taking shape’ across Somerset County landscape

Posted on August 4th, 2014

The Tribune-Democrat (August 2, 2014)

JOHNSTOWN — There is an 11-mile path, cut through the woods between Meyersdale and Somerset, that is starting to look like a road.

Straightaways and turns are clearly discernible. A few bridge columns are in place.

More than 4 million cubic yards of earth have been moved.

Almost a year ago, in late August 2013, the area was mostly a forest when dignitaries gathered for a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction on the new stretch of U.S. Route 219.

The limited-access, four-lane highway is not scheduled to be completed until the autumn of 2017, but the transformation from wilderness to transportation route is obviously underway.

“It’s really nice,” Thomas Helsel, project construction manager from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said. “It’s an encouragement I think to everybody.

“I have people tell me when they drive through this area and they see the progress that has been made, they’re starting to see how the highway’s taking shape and how they’re going to be able to drive on this highway someday.”

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk echoed those sentiments.

“I’m pleased with the progress,” Vatavuk said.

“People are really starting to see the progress now.”

Countless elected officials and community leaders supported the project throughout the decades, including U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“Since being elected to Congress, completing the Route 219 expansion has been one of my top priorities in serving the people of the 9th district,” Shuster said. “I’m glad that the construction is on schedule, and I look forward to seeing the major economic growth that our region will experience when the highway project is completed.”

Once finished, the road will enable drivers to bypass the current winding, slow-moving, two-lane stretch of Route 219.

“I think it’s going to be so much nicer,” Bill Parisi, a roadway supervisor from SAI Consulting Engineers, said. “It’s going to be a much safer ride, a quicker ride.”

The earthwork phase is being done by Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum, Allegheny County, and subcontractors. It is scheduled to be completed by October 2016 at a cost of $110 million.

The entire project, including earthwork, structure building and paving, is expected to cost $305 million.

Shuster and other officials are already trying to secure support and funding for a similar four-lane expansion for Route 219 between Meyersdale and Interstate 68 in Maryland.

By Dave Sutor