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Another Voice: Federal highway funds could be used to finish Route 219

By Meg Lauerman

Last month, Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, announced that funding in the new three-year transportation bill passed recently by the House could be used to complete the unfinished portion of Route 219 between Springville and Salamanca. His comments were echoed by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who sees funding in the new bill as a viable option to complete a similar stretch of Route 219 at the Pennsylvania/Maryland border.

As currently designed, the $325 billion transportation bill contains $4.5 billion in specially designated, competitive highway funds to help states complete interstate highway projects with costs above $100 million. The House bill still must be reconciled with the Senate’s version of the legislation. 

Continental 1 is the 1,500-mile trade corridor from Toronto to Miami, with just 20 miles to be completed in New York and approximately 200 in Pennsylvania.

One of the greatest challenges to completing New York’s portion of Route 219 has been uncertainty surrounding a long-term federal infrastructure program. The $700 million project, which will create 7,000 direct jobs and 2,450 induced jobs, is a game-changer for the regional logistics industry and communities along the corridor, providing a significant boost to New York’s Southern Tier by connecting it to the Buffalo Niagara metro region and the flourishing Canadian market.

Ultimately, it will be up to New York State to push completion of Route 219, and the Continental 1 organization continues to work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, the state Department of Transportation and State Sen. Cathy Young on positioning the project for federal funding consideration.  

While there have been challenges in New York since previously allocated funding for environmental review was reallocated during the state’s 2010 budget crisis, Pennsylvania and Maryland have made great strides. An 11-mile section of Route 219 is currently under construction between Meyersdale and Somerset, representing the largest new highway construction project east of the Mississippi River, to be completed in 2017. To its south, a study identifying the optimal route for a 5-mile section connecting Meyersdale to the Maryland state line is underway. In Maryland, full funding for a 2.5-mile section between the state line and Interstate 68 was allocated by Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this year. Planning work in various stages continues on separate segments of Route 219 in Pennsylvania near Bradford, as well.

The federal highway bill under discussion in Washington would be a tremendous boost toward Route 219 completion. Our supporters are committed to not only seeing its passage, but Route 219’s inclusion in the funding.

Meg Lauerman is executive director of Continental 1.