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Ever since it reached Springville 20 years ago, the Route 219 Expressway to Salamanca has been a ghost road, haunting the future of Southern Erie, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.

Now the route of the 28 miles from Springville to the Killbuck Interchange of the Southern Tier Expressway might soon be agreed upon.

But don't look for construction of the first three miles any earlier than 2004, maybe 2005, and don't expect the entire stretch to be completed until after the first quarter of the 21st century has passed.

"Right now we have $40 million in federal highway funds, enough to do the first three miles, using the 20-percent state cost-share formula that's been in effect," said Gary Gottlieb of the state Department of Transportation's "priority project" deparment.

"We are a little behind schedule on our environmental impact statement, but that should be done and agreed to before July -- I hope -- and then we will need two years to do final design and property acquisition."

The EIS has two parts, a "programmatic agreement" between the DOT, the Federal Highway Administration, the state Office of Historic Preservation, the National Advisory Council for Historic Preservation and the Seneca Nation, over whose land the last southerly mile of the freeway would pass. Once completed the freeway would go through Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.

And the "freeway option" seems to be the one preferred.

"We could do nothing. That is Option 1," Gottlieb said. "Option 2 is the freeway, and Option 3 is to widen the existing road. The freeway option will cost $500 million in today's dollars, so it will have to be built in sections, funded each time a new federal highway bill is authorized. Whether we start at Springville and head south, or start at the Allegany Reservation, which the Seneca Nation may desire, is not decided."

The freeway option would cut off only two of the existing roads it passes, and would leave the current 219 in use, though it would likely be renumbered, the DOT believes.

From Springville, the freeway would pass to the west of the existing Wal-Mart, then cross to the east side of the present 219, east of Ashford and stay east, parallel to the existing highway.

"We'd be about two miles east of Ellicottville," Gottlieb said. "You probably would not see the freeway from that village." The road would stay east of Great Valley, then cut through the Bartlett Hills to the Kill Buck interchange under the current alignment.

From Salamanca, a four-lane divided highway, albeit one with crossroads and driveways, leads to Bradford, Pa., where 219 becomes a freeway again.

The scheme shows seven or eight interchanges to Southern Tier communities on the new freeway, but that could change as designs are refined.

The final design won't begin until the impact statement has been accepted by the communities along the way and by the Seneca Nation.

"I hope that will be done this spring," Gottlieb said. "After the final design and right-of-way is negotiated in another two or three years we could turn earth in 2004 for the first three-mile section and finish that in two years, going full speed.

"As for opening the entire 28 miles, that's really a matter of dollars," the planner said. "If we keep getting small amounts, like we have in the last federal highway bill, I doubt the entire road would be open as early as 2025."

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