The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 20, 2013

Permit path cleared: Construction soon on Rt. 219 project

David Hurst

— The final permit is on the way for a Somerset-to-Meyersdale Route 219 improvement project to begin.

It’s a years-in-the-making step that will allow the estimated $300 million plan to be advertised for bids in the coming weeks – and if all goes well, move it to construction this fall, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster said Monday.

“This is something the people of this region have been looking forward to for a long time,” Shuster said in a conference call with reporters Monday.

The move is actually the result of a step the Environmental Protection Agency decided to bypass, recommending the final construction permit move forward without a secondary review, he said. It allows the Army Corps of Engineers to issue the permit – something Shuster expects will formally occur later this week – perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

The project involves replacing the current, winding Route 219 highway from Somerset Township to Meyersdale with a more direct four-lane highway.

Tree clearing got underway earlier this year along the corridor, where 11 miles of paved road will eventually be poured.

As planned, the bid process would give potential contractors eight weeks to submit offers on the work, PennDOT officials have said. After that, the state would review each of them – likely a six-week process – before awarding the project in the fall, Shuster added.

Initial work this fall and early next year would involve clearing the land, Shuster, the House transportation chairman, said.

“You’re going to see a lot of earth being moved – 10 million cubic yards of it – to grade the roadway,” Shuster said, noting it will be the first phase of a four- to five-year project.

“It’s going to mean hundreds of construction jobs on site, as well as locally to supply (those workers) – whether its aggregate or pipe or other materials,” he added. “It’s all going to have a positive impact on the economy here.”

Shuster said the project will transform southern Somerset County.

“This will be an area that will see growth over the next generation,” he said.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk predicted 2013 “will be remembered years from now as a historic year for Somerset County.

“But this isn’t just a good thing for Somerset – the whole region will benefit,” he added.

Shuster said he supports Maryland’s offer to pitch in for a necessary feasibility study for what will be the remaining 4-mile stretch of Route 219 to Maryland and Interstate 68.  

State officials on the other side of the border have been pressing for a final alignment so they can connect to it – a move that would link I-68 in Maryland to Somerset, Johnstown, Ebensburg and Route 22 via a continuous limited-access highway.

PennDOT is reviewing the idea, Shuster’s staff said.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.