State and federal candidates talk 219

Posted on October 24th, 2010

By Michelle Ganassi and Tiffany Wright
The candidates for Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Senate agree on the importance of infrastructure projects, but offer varying plans for completing roadways such as Route 219.

Route 219 has been designated a key part of both the North/South Appalachian Highway and Continental 1’s proposed 1,500-mile trade corridor from Toronto to Miami. The Route 219 project has been delayed for years because of a lack of funding.

Nachama Soloveichik, communications director for Pat Toomey for Senate, said Toomey is committed to making sure Pennsylvania gets the appropriate funds to maintain and build infrastructure.

“Job creation and economic growth are Pat’s No. 1 priority and he will make sure Pennsylvania has the tools to achieve those goals,” she said in an e-mail.

If elected, the Republican would find a way to address the transporation issue, Soloveichik said.

“When Pat served in the House of Representatives, he was very successful in bringing both sides of an issue together to find a solution to local problems in the Lehigh Valley, like restoring Medicare funds for local hospitals when they stood to lose that critical money,” she said. “As a senator, he will do the same thing for all of Pennsylvania’s communities.”

Soloveichik said Toomey has spent time visiting Somerset County and hopes to talk to more residents over the coming weeks and months to learn more about the roadway.

Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, said he is familiar with the effort to complete Route 219 as part of the Appalachian Development Highway System. He said that if elected he would make the project a priority.

“We have an infrastructure deficit in this country,” Sestak said in an e-mail. “In order to remain globally competitive we must invest in infrastructure, such as the Route 219 project. That’s why it will be one of my priorities as a senator. We must take action to complete the entire Appalachian Development Highway System, especially through stretches such as Route 219, in Pennsylvania.”

Sestak said that funding is available for these highway projects if the state can provide necessary matching funds.

“That’s why, in January, I sent a letter to the chairman of the Transporation and Infrastructure Committee, asking that the matching requirement be reduced or eliminated during these particularly tough times for state budgets,” Sestak said.

He said he also sent a letter calling for the reauthorization of toll credits to be used as a match. In the last transportation bill, Congress said states could no longer use toll credits as state matches for highway construction projects. States earn toll credits for spending money to improve toll roads.

He said he would also support funding projects using revenues from a reasonable natural gas severance tax.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett said Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has ignored infrastructure projects for 7 1/2 years and he vows not to do the same. He said raising taxes to fund road projects is not an option.

“We need to lower taxes and increase jobs,” he said.

If elected Corbett said he would look at ways to fund road projects such as through private/public partnerships.

“I doubt Route 219 would be one but maybe it is one,” he said. “Maybe we make 219 a toll road to help finish the last connection.”

He said he would also evaluate the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to make sure it is running efficiently. He said he could see how a corridor connecting Somerset County to Interstate 68 in Maryland could be beneficial for moving goods through the region.

“Route 219 could be a great north/south corridor,” he said. “The issue is funding it.”

Brian Herman, communications director for Dan Onorato for Governor, said his candidate knows the importance of funding transportation projects.

“Bridges, tunnels, roads, all those things need to be addressed,” he said. “We certainly need to find funding for that.”

Herman said Onorato’s plan, if elected, is to examine all the projects and prioritize them on how important they are to communities and overall infrastructure.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” he said. “He’ll have discussions on where the funding is going to come from. There are a lot of details when addressing transportation and infrastructure is a high priority of his.”

The election is Nov. 2.