The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

David Knepper

October 2, 2011

David Knepper | Route 219: The keystone for regional economic development

— The dream of completing a four-lane corridor from Interstate 80 near DuBois to Interstate 68 in Maryland continues to capture the imagination of many of us who live in the Cambria-Somerset region.

“We still need a four-lane highway system north to Interstate 80, but, realistically, completing that 22 miles south to Interstate 68 in Maryland has a better chance to be finished in the near future,” observed Brad Beigay, longtime executive director of the Cambria County Planning Commission.

Through the dauntless efforts of the North-South Appalachian Highway Coalition – representing more than 150 business and civic organizations from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – this grassroots campaign is now attracting a great deal of attention among lawmakers in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.

The coalition, because of its persistence and commitment, has been, to say the least, a powerful voice of advocacy with a singular purpose: To complete the transportation corridor linking the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Somerset, I-68 in Maryland and Corridor H in West Virginia – designated the North/South Appalachian Highway, according to Colleen T. Peterson, a member of the group.

No one has been more passionate in sounding the “trumpet call” for a completed four-lane 219 than Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk. He believes fervently that “the completion of Route 219 to Route 68 would not only be an economic stimulus for my county, but would be a significant economic benefit to our neighbors to the north in Cambria County.”

Furthermore, he said, “the Somerset-Meyersdale section of Route 219 is the most shovel-ready new construction project in Pennsylvania; and with a commitment of $35 million from the state, construction could begin in less than 18 months.”

Right now, he pointed out, “all but three of the rights-of-way have been secured, and utilities are being moved at this time.”

In a sluggish economy, one hungry for job-creation opportunities, that is the kind of great news that all of us have been hoping for.   

Completing Route 219 is the kind of economic stimulus that is so critical for the Cambria-Somerset counties region.

“The work ethic of the people of both counties is such that if we are connected to world markets, we will be able to compete,” Henry Cook, president of Somerset Trust Co., said recently.

In 2001, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia jointly released a 138-page report titled “North South Appalachia Corridor Feasibility Study.”

It subsequently was updated in 2010 by Frostburg (Md.) State University through The Greater Cumberland (Md.) Committee, a regional business and civic leadership organization.

The original report, as well as the updated version, concluded – not surprisingly – that the Appalachian region would significantly benefit from improvements in our highway system by creating opportunities to support enhanced economic development and job growth. 

Improved roadways, the reports said, would translate into travel-time savings for both passenger and commercial vehicle operators who move commodities over the existing highway network.

You’ll get no argument from Stan McQuaide, president of W.C. McQuaide Inc. trucking, with offices in Richland Township, Cambria County. He believes that “completion of Route 219 would open this area tremendously for commercial, business and travel.” 

Both studies substantiated the positive effects U.S. 219 north from I-68 in Maryland to the Pennsylvania Turnpike would bring in promoting economic growth, providing for international and interregional trade and bringing  jobs to the region.

Keep in mind that the U.S. 219 corridor goes through areas with relatively low income levels and job growth.

The proposed completion of Route 219 south would be a significant factor in several key areas of the local economy and could support 2,400 to 2,600 jobs, or 7 percent of the 1998 job base (7 percent of the 2008 job base). 

Perhaps the next step for Cambria County leaders is to join with the North-South Appalachian Highway Coalition in supporting its vision to build the entire 219 corridor in order to maximize economic benefits for the Appalachian region.

Who could dispute the Appalachian coalition’s Peterson when she says:

“Let us never forget that all of us live, work, shop and travel through the region and not in tidy geo-political jurisdictions.

“When we meet with our elected officials at the local, state and federal levels, our primary message is that we hope that they are the kind of leaders who understand the way we live – amidst neighbors representing multiple counties and states – and not necessarily the way the votes are counted.”

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.

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