The multistate coalition behind expanding Route 219 is proposing that the highway be included in the Interstate System as I-67.
Such a designation would guarantee uniform design standards, increase federal funding to 90 percent, vs. 80 percent, and get the project rolling faster than its current snail's pace.
"I see it as an option," said Patricia Rehak, Greater Buffalo Partnership executive vice president. "Whatever we call it, however we can get as much federal money as we can is what we're investigating."
Advocates for an expanded Route 219 say it could become a huge trade corridor from Buffalo south to the Washington, D.C., area and linked to the QEW serving Toronto and Canada's industrial heartland.
At a Congressional hearing in Buffalo last week, Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he supported Route 219 being named a NAFTA corridor after the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The agreement has spurred the rapid growth of trade through Buffalo, a development that community leaders believe could lead to major economic spin-offs locally if smooth transportation to the south can be guaranteed for truckers.
Right now, Route 219 turns into a winding, two-lane highway south of Springville.
The original 42,000-mile interstate system, which was justified as a national defense project, was set into motion in 1956 by the Eisenhower administration. It is formally called the Dwight David Eisenhower System of Interstates and Defense Highways and now essentially is finished.
Routes running north and south have odd numbers, those going east and west are even. Currently there is no I-67 and it would be a logical numerical addition to the system, supporters say.
Having a new route added to the system is rare, but it has happened, most recently in central Pennsylvania, said Jerry Brant, executive director of the Pennsylvania 219 Association. State officials there expanded Route 220 and had it designated I-99.
"This is something we started to put forward earlier this year," Brant said. "States would only have to put up 10 percent of the amount."
Ms. Rehak said the idea came out of discussions with representatives from the five other states that the 540-mile Route 219 passes through from Buffalo through Virginia. Shooting for interstate designation would mean all the states would build the road to the same standard.
Maria Lehman, vice chairwoman of the Highway Users Council of Western New York, said having Route 219 designated an interstate requires an act of Congress. If that hurdle can be overcome, it would all but guarantee money would be available to build it.
Right now, although Route 219 is called a priority highway by the federal government, its funding is problematic at best. Shuster's plan for a NAFTA corridor, if accepted, would improve the odds for money, but obtaining an interstate designation would get the cash rolling.
"I know it's happened in Florida and California, but it's difficult," Ms. Lehman said. "A lot of people in the coalition are frustrated by the bureaucracy and not seeing this move. With an interstate designation, it would get a life of its own."