After interminable delays, a project crucial to Western New York's long-term economic prospects is finally about to get under way. The Route 219 extension project, the first step in creating a major north-south transportation corridor through Buffalo, should begin in spring. Honk your horns.
The project, part of an effort to extend the expressway from its current southern end in Springville to Interstate 86 at Salamanca -- and perhaps beyond -- will see construction of two new bridges across the Zoar Valley starting this spring. Contracts are expected to be awarded by the end of next month, and the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009.
The extension of this road is important to Western New York for several reasons, the most hopeful of which is an eventual four-lane straight shot from Toronto to Washington, D.C., with Buffalo as the linchpin. That eventuality, which would require construction into Pennsylvania, could help this region vie with, or even overtake, the route through Windsor/Detroit as "Continental 1" -- the primary north-south transportation route between Toronto and Miami.
That vision reaches its climax with Buffalo's potential to become an important link in a proposal to direct Canadian rail shipments to Buffalo's rail yards for distribution through the east. That makes most sense with a better highway connection south.
Even if the link to Washington never is completed, this project is worthwhile. It will finally give Western New Yorkers a better route to I-86 and the western Southern Tier and do so in a way that makes eminent good sense: As it is, the Route 219 expressway begins near Buffalo but abruptly ends at Springville, only about halfway to Salamanca.
The existing expressway is certainly useful to a number of motorists, but no one would ever have planned a highway that ends as this one does. It makes sense only as a road that connects to another highway, in this case I-86.
The project is not without critics, who fear harm to the environment and residents in its path. They have valid points that need to be ameliorated as much as practical while finally moving this project along. But the project itself is important to the regional economy.