Route 219 update: bridges to the future

Posted on April 25th, 2016

by Kecia Bal, Tribune-Democrat

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GARRETT – Construction season is picking up again, and so is work on the second phase – the structures and bridge-building stage – of the 11-mile stretch of Route 219 from Meyersdale to Somerset.

Already erected are six 220-foot-tall piers to hold the largest span – Buffalo Creek Bridge – of the five new bridges being built for the newest section of the four-lane highway.

PennDOT officials gathered around that bridge, an $18.9 million, 1,100-foot-long structure, on Thursday to provide a project update.

Last year, work on the structures phase required between 250 to 300 crews at a time, including dozens of subcontractors working under prime contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. The Tarentum-based contractor also won the first phase, a $110.6 million earthwork contract.

In February, officials announced that New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc. of New Enterprise, Bedford County, was the lowest bidder for the final paving phase of the project.

That company bid $52.1 million for concrete paving work.

“PennDOT doesn’t normally let three projects of this size at one time,” said Tom Helsel, the PennDOT project’s construction manager, said. “We were fortunate to have the same contractor on two of them. The challenge is always coordination, but we know we’re working with contractors with the right expertise.”

Two other bridges already are complete, Walter’s Mill Bridge and Mud Pike Bridge, he said.

Along with Buffalo Creek Bridge, also still underway are a Garrett Shortcut Bridge and Swamp Creek Bridge. Helsel said the second phase is around 50 percent complete, and the new highway should be ready for motorists by June or July 2018.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, said the four-lane highway should have broad economic impact.

“It’s an important corridor for Johnstown, too, to get south to (Interstate) 68,” he said. “We’ve seen it in the (Interstate) 99 and (Interstate) 81 corridors. It attracts jobs and attracts businesses.”

The final stretch in Somerset County, connecting Meyersdale the final 5 to 6 miles of Route 219 to the Maryland border, has yet to be funded, but Shuster, also U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, said he’s hopeful, especially seeing the massive project taking shape on a hillside in Somerset County.

“This project is over 30 years in the making,” he said. “I predict (the last stretch) will take less than that. We’re dedicated to working hard.”

Thomas Pretash, PennDOT District 9 executive, said technology upgrades also are being built in, such as a road-weather information systems stationed to provide real time conditions to help save state costs on treatment materials and monitor road safety.

Standing near a partially completed Swamp Creek Bridge structure to be 714-feet long, project environmental advisor Dain Davis, an EADS Group engineering consultant, said contractors and PennDOT have worked closely with as many as seven environmental agencies at a time, successfully clearing hurdles that came with the countryside.

The 11 miles of new road impacted about 30 acres of wetland, for example, so PennDOT had to purchase 52 acres of land to create new wetlands that are to be deeded to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“This big cut had a number of coal seams, which can discharge acid water,” he said, gesturing toward 130-foot tall piers already in place. “We were then required to capture and treat the water before it gets to the streams. That’s what we’re doing. It’s all been a good working relationship.”

Pretash said the project is on schedule.

“We’ve had a mild winter, but with the rain it’s always a challenge,” he said. “We’ve been able to work through those issues. We are on time.”