A half-century ago, Johnstown was an industrial hub, one of the most important cities in the state – a status U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, said Thursday he will work to see restored through improved highways.
Shuster, who easily was re-elected over Democratic challenger Karen Ramsburg on Tuesday, said Thursday that he is a candidate for chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“I’ve reached out (to Republican House leaders) over the past couple weeks and the response has been encouraging,” he said in a teleconference held to an-nounce his intentions. “We’ll continue to talk.”
At this point, Shuster said, he has no competition from other House members for the chairmanship of a committee that has a strong influence on all forms of national transportation policy.
As chairman, he would set the legislative agenda and steer the committee as it looks for funding to meet the nation’s mounting transportation needs.
Shuster’s 9th Congressional District includes northern Cambria County, much of Somerset and all of Bedford counties, along with all or part of nine other counties.
Tuesday’s 12th district win by Keith Rothfus places a Republican, for the first time in many years, as congressman of Johns-town, a win not ignored by Shuster.
He vowed to work closely with Rothfus to see that the transportation needs of Johnstown, long viewed as the orphan in terms of modern highways, will be met.
“I’ll be helping the entire region, and if Johnstown benefits, the whole region will benefit,” Shuster said.
Rothfus said Shuster, as chairman of the committee, should bring the nation’s and region’s transportation needs to the forefront.
“Since day one of my campaign, I’ve been saying how important it is that we put a new concentration on transportation in our region, including finding a way to get Johnstown on the interstate system,” Rothfus said Thursday.
“Having Congressman Shuster as chairman of the committee would be a big step in that direction.”
Shuster pointed out his strong support for the region’s highway needs when he fought to allow 100 percent federal Appalachian highway money for
Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale, in the federal transportation bill adopted in the summer.
The $300 million five-year project likely will begin early next year.
Shuster’s announcement of his intentions will be followed by a letter to House members.
On the Monday following Thanksgiving the process to elect seven House chairmanships, including transportation and infrastructure, will begin.
He has spent 11 years as a member of the committee, joking at times that his seat was closer to the door than the middle of the table. During that time he has served as chairman of two subcommittees.
Shuster hopes to follow on the path of his father, Bud Shuster, the 9th district congressman from Everett who during his tenure introduced the highway demonstration program credited for many of the improvements in Bedford and Blair counties and points east.
“The only reason we have Interstate 99 is because of him,” Shuster said of his father, who stepped down in 2000.
The interstate runs from Bedford north to beyond State College, where it links to Interstate 80.
Interstate 99 is viewed by economic-development officials as the main reason Bedford County has turned into a hub for national warehousing and Blair County is benefiting from the Marcellus Shale industry.
Shuster also hopes to adopt policy that will allow for the design, bidding and construction of highways and bridges to be accelerated.
“I want more to be done to streamline the process to get projects done,” he said. “The quicker they are done, the less they cost.”
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