The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

May 22, 2013

Route 219 work gets green light

SOMERSET — The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday issued the permit needed to allow work to begin on the 11-mile stretch of four-lane limited access highway from Somerset to Meyersdale.

The permit approval was announced by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, two days after the EPA decided to issue the construction permit without a secondary environmental review.

While the EPA is viewed as the biggest hurdle in the project, PennDOT is still waiting for approval of a final permit needed from the state Department of Environmental Protection, said spokesman John Poister.

“We are still reviewing one more in our waterways and wetlands program,” Poister said.

“The pending Chapter 105 Water Obstruction and Encroachment permit application is still under review.”

No timetable was immediately available Wednesday on when approval for the final permit would come.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said DEP could not provide a final review of the permit until the EPA had acted.

“This (EPA) is the permit they needed. This is the one we were waiting for,” he said.

Construction of the $305 million highway extending the four-lane from Carrolltown to near the Maryland line has been years in the making.

Shuster said he has been pushing for an improved Route 219 for the past 12 years and is eager to see work started.

“This critical north-south route is essential to greater economic development and a better way of life for everyone in central Pennsylvania,” he said.

Once the final DEP permit is in place, PennDOT will be free to put the project out for bid, a process that involves specification documents said to be about 3,000 pages.

Bids likely will be awarded about mid-July, with work on the earth-moving phase – moving of an estimated 10 million cubic yards of material, grading and drainage – to start this summer, Shuster said Wednesday.

In offering background on the project, Shuster said initial planning started in the 1970s but was put on the back burner until about two decades ago, when PennDOT determined the need for an expansion between the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset to Interstate 68, just across the line in Maryland.

Design on the Somerset-to-Meyersdale and Meyersdale-to-I-68 projects began in the early 2000s, but a lack of funding prevented the 11-mile stretch from Somerset to Meyersdale to move into final design.

Construction funding was the next hurdle, delaying work for more than five years after federal law changed regarding use of toll credits.

The most recent highway legislation provided a green light, allowing the use of 100 percent of Appalachian Highway Development System money to fund the work with no state dollars.

With highway construction dollars tight and few projects being funded this year, Vatavuk is hopeful bids for the project will come in at or below estimates.

“We think we’re going to get very good bids on this,” he said. “This will end up being a good year for Somerset County.”

Preliminary schedule

• Earthwork: Starting this year.

• Structures: Bridges, starting 2015-16

• Paving: 11-mile corridor, starting 2017-18

• Completion: Open to traffic, 2020-21

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