Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley is 44 years old.
So when he spoke Tuesday morning about the fact that there were meetings being held before he was born regarding the extension of U.S. Route 219 south from Somerset, it gave attendees a reference point about how long the project has taken to come to fruition.
There was much back-slapping and congratulatory handshakes at the ceremonial groundbreaking for a new, 11-mile stretch of the four-lane highway between Somerset and Meyersdale. And it’s well deserved.
There are plenty of people who have worked for years and years to make that ceremony a reality. Many of them, such as the late Rep. John Murtha, were either not around to see it or are no longer in office. But that doesn’t make their efforts any less noteworthy.
The politicians on hand – and there were plenty – were quick to point out the work of their predecessors, and most also thanked Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, for his tireless efforts in making what for years looked like a four-lane pipe dream into a reality.
Cawley, and many others, echoed the sentiments of PennDOT’s Thomas A. Prestash, who said the day was “a long time coming.”
Many noted that the roadwork became a priority upon taking office.
The project is being counted to do more than just allow motorists faster access from Somerset to Meyersdale. It’s also expected to bring more people into the region, as it becomes a major thoroughfare.
With it, will come jobs.
PennDOT estimates that the project will employ 9,000 people in a range of industries, from design to timbering to construction and paving.
But Somerset County is banking on it doing more than just delivering jobs during the next five years, which is about how long the project is expected to take.
Local leaders are also confident that it will make our region more convenient for business as the ability to move products via the highway becomes easier.
There was one fly in the ointment – or perhaps a stone in the paving material – on Tuesday: There still will be a nearly 3- to 4-mile gap of two-lane road from Meyersdale to the Maryland border.
The project isn’t yet completed; the highway needs to stretch all the way to Route 68 in Maryland.
The politicians on hand Tuesday were quite aware of that fact and already were talking about the need to finish the job. The problem, of course, is that the second project is estimated to cost an additional $250 million.
While that’s a significant amount of money, we’re cautiously optimistic that it can be found to complete the project.
So, to all who had a hand in getting the project off the ground after more than 40 years of talk, congratulations. We all appreciate your efforts.
We hope you’re even better at getting the funding for the completion of Route 219.
Our region can’t wait another 40 years for it.
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