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May 23, 2013

Last barrier falls to Route 219 construction

SOMERSET — As hoped, the state Department of Environmental Protection came through Thursday with what is described as the final approval needed to allow Penn­DOT to advertise for bids on the Somerset-to-Meyersdale leg of Route 219.

DEP’s Southwestern Regional Waterways and Wetlands program granted the Chapter 105 Water Obstruction and Encroachment permit for the highway expansion, DEP spokesman John Poister said.

“PennDOT is picking up the permit this afternoon,” Poister said an email Thursday.

The final approval came one day after the Environmental Protection Agency approved the final federal permit needed to enable bid proposals on the $305 million project.

Initial work on the 11-mile, four-lane, limited access highway is expected to begin around mid-July.

“They (DEP) couldn’t give it the final review and approval until they got the EPA approval,” Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said.

The permit was needed to ensure the highway’s design and construction meets environmental regulations regarding construction of 12 new bridges in the project and any work in or around streams and waterways.

Dave Moe, coordinator of the North/South Appalachian Highway Coalition, said he is overjoyed at seeing the two final pieces of what became a complicated puzzle fall into place.

“This is great news,” Moe said, noting that the only portion remaining is a seven-mile link to the Maryland state line, where the highway will connect with Interstate 68.

While there seems to be wide support for that final segment, PennDOT lacks the estimated $250 million to fund that portion of the project.

All rights of way for work on the Somerset-to-Meyersdale stretch were secured last year, and earlier this year contractors felled several acres of trees along the path of the new highway.

Work will be done in three phases. Earth moving is set to get underway this summer, followed by bridge construction and finally road paving. The roadway likely will be open for traffic early in the next decade.

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