EBENSBURG, Pa. — Saying that the dream of making U.S. Route 219 a major corridor is not forgotten, U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, said Monday that he is working on bills that would extend Route 219 North in Cambria County and get Route 219 South into construction in Somerset County.
During a press conference at the Cambria County Courthouse, Critz said that he is:
• Introducing legislation to extend the Route 219 corridor on the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) from where the four-lane, limited access highway now ends near Carrolltown through northern Cambria County into New York state near I-86 at Salamanca, N.Y.
By extending Corridor N (Route 219) north, the highway would be eligible for ADHS money and, when constructed, open “tremendous economic opportunities for our region,” Critz said.
While admitting there would be hurdles to overcome in getting money to design and build a northern extension if his bill is enacted, Critz said it’s important to take “the first step. We need to take one step at a time. Getting miles on a system is not an easy task.”
• Partnering with U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, D-Scranton, on a bill that would again allow states to use what is know as “toll credits” as a match – rather than putting up actual state dollars – for federal highway dollars on road projects.
The credits – based on money Pennsylvania spends for improvements on the turnpike and Mon Valley Expressway – could be applied to the $35 million the state still needs to put up to proceed with construction of Route 219 South of Meyersdale, Critz said.
“This is exciting news because they (ADHS) do have a pool of funding,” Cambria County President Commissioner P.J. Stevens said.
As for the “toll credits” bill, Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said, “We look at this as a key piece of legislation. Cambria County would benefit as much as Somerset County (with Route 219 being extended south).”
Tight budgets at both the state and federal levels have dried up funding for new highway construction in recent years.
The Appalachian Highway System was born in the 1960s with the idea of bringing remote areas out of poverty.
It includes the north-south Route 219 in Somerset County and about half of Cambria County, along with the east-west Route 22.
In Cambria, the most recently constructed link of the four-lane highway is the one between Ebensburg and Carrolltown. It was completed in May 1989.
Critz said that extending Route 219 North to I-86 in New York would “benefit communities such as Ebensburg,
Johnstown and Somerset because of increased traffic and accessibility. While I am still working hard to see Route 219 completed to I-68 in Maryland, it is important that we start talking about the next chapter in improving our region’s highway structure.”
Vatavuk said that the final design of the Somerset-Meyersdale link has been completed and that the project is being held up until Pennsylvania comes up with all of the $70 million in matching dollars.
Pennsylvania has already set aside $35 million in a state bond issue, he said.
Jim Pruss, PennDOT’s District 9 senior project manager for Route 219, said that currently the final bidding package was being put together for the 11-mile segment to Meyersdale. He also said that the state is acquiring rights of way and doing utility work, such as moving lines, to prepare for construction.
“If the $35 million was available and if we would be giving the green light, advertising for bids would proceed in about a year,” Pruss said.
The last link completed on Route 219 in Somerset County was the Meyersdale Bypass in 1998.