SOMERSET, Pa. — More than 40 years after initial work began on U.S. Route 219, construction on a long-anticipated, four-lane highway from Somerset to Meyersdale will begin within the next month.
To mark the milestone, a groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday with a host of dignitaries in attendance, as well as residents who have long supported the completion of the stretch of highway.
Thomas Prestash, PennDOT District 9, said the 11-mile portion of highway will be competed over the course of five years and work will be completed in three phases — earthwork, bridges and pavement. The bid for the earthwork was awarded earlier this year to the Joseph B. Fay Co., which submitted a bid of $110,648,000.
The entire project is expected to cost $305 million.
Prestash said the project is the result of the dedication of many individuals and representatives and a determination by residents in both Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“This project is a long time coming,” he added.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley commended the project and said it it is time to move forward after decades of delays. He said the completion of this portion will create 9,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, provide a safe roadway for travelers and spur economic development. Cawley praised the efforts of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster for his dedication in securing funding for the project.
“We have been waiting for this day for more than 40 years, but this is not the end — we need to finish 219 to the Maryland line connecting to Interstate 68. This is more than a highway, this is going to be 70 miles of opportunity made possible by all of us working together to make great things happen,” Cawley said.
Throughout the ceremony, speakers remarked on the belief that the completion of the highway will play a significant role in economic development for communities along the corridor, but only if the road is linked to I-68.
“Many years of hard work and perseverance have paid off and it is our day to celebrate,” said Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk. “However, the job is not complete and we must continue our efforts to complete the remaining seven miles to the Maryland border. The Somerset County Commissioners want to thank The Greater Cumberland Committee, especially Colleen Peterson and David Moe, for their support and efforts to help the residents of Somerset County.”
Moe and members of TGCC were among guests for the event and also expressed their pleasure that the road will be a reality.
“Back in 2007, when Penn-DOT canceled work on both sections of 219 south from Somerset to Interstate 68 in Maryland they told us they couldn’t proceed because they couldn’t use toll credits for the required state match for federal funds. Well, we buckled down, went to Washington, D.C., several times over the previous years and worked with our federal legislators in our three states and got that changed,” Moe said. “So in a way this is a celebration of that event and a lot of people in our multistate North-South Appalachian Coalition played a significant part in bringing about this groundbreaking event.
“But the job is not done. We have only 10 more miles in Pennsylvania and Maryland combined to go to bring a four-lane, divided 219 to Interstate 68 in Maryland. Then there will be 77 miles of four-lane, divided highway infrastructure that will bring significant jobs and growth to our region.”
Brenda Smith, executive director of TGCC, said the organization considers the completion of 219 to Maryland to be a top priority.
“Through a shared vision across county and state lines, and by building partnerships through strong leadership by the members of TGCC’s North/South Core Work Group and the North/South Coalition, this groundbreaking offers evidence of what is truly possible when we work together for the common good. We are pleased to be associated with this project, but share the sentiment of our project coordinator, Dave Moe, this is an important step, but there is still a great deal of work to do,” Smith said.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett responded to an offer by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to assist with the planning costs associated with the final leg of the project. In the letter, Corbett indicated a willingness to work with Maryland officials to begin the planning process, but emphasized that, at this time, no funds are available to complete the road from Meyersdale to I-68.
Officials from both states celebrated the beginning of this latest project, but pledged to continue to lobby for the highway to be completed.
“Our work will not be done until U.S. Route 219 is linked to Interstate 68,” Vatavuk said.