The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

July 4, 2008

NEW - 'Hail Mary legislative pass' scores $35 million for Route 219

SOMERSET — Route 219 is rising from the dead.

Just three weeks after state officials declared that completion of the highway essentially had been scrapped, the state Legislature reversed course today, budgeting $35 million for the long-awaited road.

It will be enough money to initially match $46 million in federal funding, although local lawmakers will continue to push for changes in the federal funding formula.

"I like to think we snatched victory from the jaws of death," Somerset County Commissioner Jimmy Marker said today in an impromptu Independence Day press conference at the end of the four-lane highway in Somerset Township.

Late Thursday, a state Senate committee approved the $35 million budget allocation following a week of intense behind-the-scenes lobbying.

The funding can be used to leverage more than $175 million in federal funds for the highway, said state Sens. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar, and John Wozniak, D-Johnstown.

The full House and Senate were expected to act on the budget as soon as this afternoon.

As the state has wrestled with its budget for the past week, commissioners orchestrated a last-minute blitz to have the $35 million included in a $350 million PennDOT bond issue.

The pressure came from all sides: Gov. Ed Rendell; Kasunic and Wozniak; state Reps. Bob Bastian, R-Somerset, and Tom Yewcic, D-Jackson Township; U.S. Reps. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, and Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg; state Sen. Arlen Spector; and Pennsylvania Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason of Johnstown and former GOP chairwoman Eileen Melvin of Somerset.

"This is akin to a Hail Mary legislative pass,"ù County Commissioner Chairwoman Pamela Tokar-Ickes said.

Three weeks ago, PennDOT said a $9 million, 20 percent match to federal funding has been removed from the list on projects in PennDOT's 12-year plan.

That decision was the apparent death knell for 35 years worth of effort to complete the four-lane highway from Somerset to Interstate 68 in Maryland.

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