Top 10 of 2014: No. 7 – Officials hoping Route 219 work builds a bridge to better future

Posted on December 24th, 2014

by Kathy Mellott, Tribune-Democrat

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An aerial view of the 12-mile stretch of real estate between Somerset and Meyersdale may seem unimpressive to many, but for those who have been waiting for a modern Route 219, the view is magnificent.

Considered the most significant economic generator for the region, a completed four-lane limited access highway captured much of the attention of the county and state leaders and economic development supporters through 2014.

The project, a dream four decades in the making, was well on its way to funding when, in the first half of the 2000’s, federal funding regulations for Appalachian Regional Commission were changed. Hopes for completion of the vital link were put on the back burner.

But a little ingenuity resolved funding issues, and in fall 2013, work began on the first of three phases for the estimated $300 million project.

Joseph B. Fay Co., of Tarentum, Allegheny County has much of the earth-moving phase completed, with work expected to wrap up in the first half of 2015.

The same company was the low bidder in October for the second phase – construction of about a dozen bridges, including one at the southern interchange costing $18 million.

Work on the structures will overlap completion of the first phase, PennDOT officials said, and the third and final phase will be bid in late 2015.

Pouring of concrete and road preparation for vehicular traffic will be the focus in 2016, with hopes that the highway will be open to traffic by fall 2017 or spring 2018, project manager Greg Illig said.

When completed, it will provide traffic with a four-lane highway from just north of Ebensburg to six miles north of the Maryland line near Meyersdale.

PennDOT District 9 chief engineer Thomas Prestash told The Tribune-Democrat recently that the highway is one that will make a significant difference.

“When completed, it will not only improve access to Somerset County, but it will provide improved safety, mobility and economic growth for the entire region,” he said.

But long before the cement on the Somerset-to-Meyersdale section has cured, 219 advocates hope significant progress will be made on what some have termed the missing link, that section from Meyersdale to the Maryland line, where it can hook up to Interstate 68 near Grantsville.

Maryland has money ready for its section – about three miles – but needs to see what route PennDOT will select so the two can link seamlessly.

The highway is not only important to the Cambria-Somerset-Grantsville region. It is listed as a top priority by Continental 1, a multistate, international group that is looking at the highway from a broad prospective. With the Somerset-Meyersdale link well on its way to completion, the shorter stretch to I-68 is on the Continental 1 agenda for 2015.

Meg Lauerman, the organization’s executive director said earlier this month that completion of the highway into Maryland “changes the conversation for everyone along the corridor.”

Funding issues remain a stumbling block for Pennsylvania’s share of the project, officials said.