The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 10, 2013

Plans for 219 north disappoint

NORTHERN CAMBRIA — Those northern Cambria residents who came to a meeting at the borough building Wednesday expecting news of funding for a four-lane Route 219 or even money for existing route improvements went away disappointed.

The two public forums held in the afternoon and evening by the Cambria County Planning Commission were to hear what community residents want, even if it involves just minimal improvements.

“We’re not unveiling anything today,” Ethan Imhoff, commission executive director, told the two dozen or more residents. “The purpose of the meeting is to find out what the public wants.”

Route 219, from where the four-lane ends in Cambria Township through to the Cambria-Clearfield county line, has long been a source of discontent for motorists, and many of those sentiments were expressed Wednesday.

Unlike 219 south of Ebensburg, the northern stretch was overlooked when Congress adopted the Appalachian Highway Development System. It was an initiative to bring modern highways and economic development to the 13 states along the Appalachian Mountain range.

The congressional approval came in 1965 for 3,090 miles, and most efforts to add additional mileage through amended legislation were unsuccessful.

AHDS money is fully funding the Route 219 extension from Somerset to Meyersdale.

Bids for the $305 million four-lane will be opened later this month. Earth moving work is to be underway by September, PennDOT officials said.

Hope for a similar project north of Ebensburg has waned over the past decade as Penn-DOT refocused resources on bridges and revenue enhancement has remained elusive.

But Darren Weaver of Cherry Tree, Indiana County, keeps hoping.

“They need the highway. They need a four-lane, even if it takes my home,” Weaver said.

It’s about more than convenience, said Weaver, who sees the need for a four-lane 219 as a matter of saving lives.

Imhoff was blunt.

“A four-lane highway really is not in the cards. We need to focus on maintaining and improving what we have,” he said. “Unless PennDOT hits the lottery, the four-lane option is off the table right now.”

Several years ago PennDOT developed a proposal to make significant improvements to Sunset Road, linking Carrolltown to Route 36 north of Patton.

The idea was to develop an alternate Route 219 to pull through traffic out of Northern Cambria Borough.

At a cost of $30 million – a figure quoted about five years ago – money would then be spent on Route 36 north to the county line, developing turning lanes and straightening some curves.

While the idea has not been discussed by PennDOT for some time, residents told Imhoff on Wednesday that if any money is to be spent, let PennDOT spend its money on the existing 219.

Northern Cambria Planning Commission recently passed a resolution opposing any development of a 219 alternative that would serve to bypass the borough, said Karen Hall, secretary of the organization.

The local planning commission wants a four-lane 219, she said, and at the very least, state money spent to straighten out two sharp turns in the borough.

Imhoff said a record of the residents’ concerns and priorities will be included in a transportation improvement program his agency is developing for presentation to the state.

A forum for residents of Carrolltown Borough and East and West Carroll townships will be held today from 2 to 4 and 5 to 7 p.m. at the Carrolltown Municipal Building, 140 E. Carroll St.

For more information, contact the commission at 472-2106.

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