The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Business

February 23, 2014

Speed forward

Push is on to improve transportation

JOHNSTOWN — BY KATHY MELLOTT

KMELLOTT@TRIBDEM.COM

Be it by highway, rail or air, the Cambria-Somerset region continues to depend heavily on transportation as the push is on to improve the economic picture moving people and things in and out.

Passage of Act 89, in late 2013, allows for PennDOT to tell a story hugely different than the one told this time last year when threats of downgraded bridges and concerns over an outdated, under-maintained highway system were prevalent.

Things look good for those depending on rail passenger service to points east and west, at least through October.

Stops by the Pennsylvanian in Johns-town will continue in the morning and evening after PennDOT agreed to pick up some of the costs, said Craig Schulz, Amtrak spokesman.

The westbound passenger train stops in Johnstown and returns east, headed to New York, about 6 p.m., Schulz said.

The service was in question for awhile, but the agreement with PennDOT will have to be renegotiated later this year in order for the stops in Johnstown, Altoona and other smaller cities to continue, he said.

Daily commuter flights into and out of the John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport continue to be provided, but concerns over current provider Silver Airline has prompted the airport authority to consider options.

Airport officials have joined a feasibility study to form a network of smaller airports with multiple daily Pittsburgh connector flights.

Keeping a commercial airport open and dependable is essential to maintaining economic viability and growth, officials said.

“It is very important,” state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, said.

He is looking for ways to increase usage, including something so seemingly insignificant as a portable skyway, which would allow planes larger than the small commuters to land at the Richland Township facility.

As minority chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Wozniak said he is working on getting funding for a skyway through PennDOT’s intermodal allocation.

Airports, even small ones, are key in developing an economic package of all of the positives for a region, said Linda Thomson, executive director of Johnstown Area Regional Industries (JARI.)

“It’s especially important if the headquarters for the business is outside Johnstown,” she said. “An airport is a key component.”

The bright side of the highway story has to be billions of dollars that will be pumped into the state’s highways and bridges over five years as a result of Act 89.

“Something really good has happened in Washington,” said PennDOT spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick. “Pennsylvania is now at the forefront of the country is dealing with meeting huge transportation needs.”

The economy will win in a variety of ways, Kirkpatrick said.

“People in the Johnstown area and all across the state will see lots of road and bridge work starting this spring,” he said. “This means smooth pavements and bridges not posted or closed.”

The result will be less wear and tear on vehicles, less damage to tires, shocks and alignments, Kirkpatrick said.

The influx of funds through a variety of sources will result in much of the work being done by private contractors, meaning sustained and new jobs.

Estimates by PennDOT are that more than $2 billion in construction contracts will be awarded to private industries statewide in 2014 alone.

A common ratio for dollars to jobs, he said, is that for every $1 billion spent, 30,000 jobs are saved and created.

For example, Kirkpatrick said, in Cambria County,

50 road and bridge improvement projects on PennDOT’s decade of improvement list, can start moving forward. The same is true for other counties including Somerset, which will see significant improvements as a result of the increased revenue program.

Prior to enactment of Act 89, planned for Cambria was

24 projects totaling $33.2 million and in Somerset, 20 projects worth $25.8 million.

Local municipalities also will  see an increase in their liquid fuels funds, money returned to the cities, townships and boroughs to pay for transportation-related costs.

“That means an improved economy at a time when we certainly need a boost,” Kirkpatrick said.

While not funded through Act 89, the second largest new highway construction project in the state will get into full swing as soon as winter passes.

Construction of a four-lane limited-access Route 219 between Somerset and Meyersdale is entering its second year with proposals for construction of Phase II – bridge and other structures to be let for bid later this year.

The third phase of the $300 million project will likely be bid in late 2015 or early 2016 and the hope is it will be open to traffic by 2017.

Linking Somerset to Meyersdale with a modern four-lane highway is key in helping economic develop along the whole Route 219 corridor, said Dave Moe, chairman of Continental One, a multistate, multination initiative pushing for a four-lane from Toronto, Canada, to Miami.

“These linkages are key,” Moe said. “If you look at any area, there are north-south and east-west links. Those areas have economic growth, Moe said.

 

Kathy Mellott is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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