The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 14, 2013

Route 219 south up to bat

Federal agency blesses expansion plans

— The delays to a project that would expand the four-lane portion of Route 219 south to the Mason-Dixon Line have driven us batty for decades.

Now, it looks like Somerset County’s bat population will not keep the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation from moving forward with the expansion.

Our Kathy Mellott reported on Sunday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a “biological opinion” in favor of allowing the $300 million project to proceed.

Biologists were worried that the expansion from Somerset to Meyersdale, which will require the timbering of about 200 acres of trees along the proposed corridor, would destroy the habitat of the Indiana bat, a federally designated endangered species.

But PennDOT’s plan to cut down the trees before the end of March – when Indiana bats end their underground winter hibernation and begin nesting in trees – helped convince biologist Robert Anderson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it was OK for the project to proceed. Well, that and the $800,000 that PennDOT agreed to donate to the Indiana Bat Conservation Fund.

“Using the money, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will go out and take steps to protect the bat,” Anderson said. “It assures that we can protect the bat somewhere else.”

That step, along with the expected approval of three more necessary permits, will allow a project that is decades in the making to move ahead.

That’s great news for residents and businesses in our area. Once fully completed, a four-lane expressway would link Ebensburg to Route 68. It would open our region to more business opportunities as the north/south corridor would make it much easier to transport goods into and out of Cambria and Somerset counties.

 The project would create 20,000 construction jobs and result in an economic impact for southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland of 10,000 permanent jobs, according to David Moe, coordinator of the North/South Appalachian Highway Coalition.

That’s the kind of economic infusion that our region so desperately needs. We hope that the project finally can move forward without any more delays.

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