The goal of Continental 1, a Buffalo-based nonprofit group advocating for construction of the Route 219 expressway in New York and Pennsylvania, will take another significant step forward if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directs the state to pursue available federal funds.
The dream of the binational alliance of business, community and government leaders is a 1,500-mile interstate corridor from Toronto to Miami through Buffalo. There are 20 miles left to build in New York State.
New funding available in the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act would pay for completion of Section 12, two miles between Interstate 86 and just north of Salamanca.
One mile of the section goes through the Seneca Nation, which has every reason to be supportive, because the new section would get people off I-86 and into its casino parking lot. The Nation would also receive a certain number of well-paying construction jobs set aside by the federal government.
The 20-mile section in New York will be a big lift, but it will be an important boost for Continental 1. A 2.5-mile link in Maryland has been funded, leaving only about 200 miles in Pennsylvania to be built. And some segments in Pennsylvania have reached the study phase.
The recently approved $305 billion transportation bill, signed by the president, contains more than $16 billion in funding for New York’s highways and bridges. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a longtime supporter of the project, has touted the FAST Act as a way to boost upstate infrastructure by as much as 16.5 percent from previous years.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, has pushed for roads and bridges, working with Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Schuster of Pennsylvania for final passage of the highway spending plan. State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, has also been a strong supporter.
Reed and Schumer pushed for a $4.5 billion provision in the FAST Act for the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program. This is where the money would come from to pay for the approximately 2 miles of highway. The state Department of Transportation needs to apply for Section 12 as a project under this new FAST Act provision.
Continental 1 and its easier travel to Canada and through the Washington region to Miami could also raise the profile of the Southern Tier. That would help a region that has had trouble attracting businesses, doctors and faculty and students to colleges.
The road will be hugely expensive, but there is a cost to communities of doing nothing. This project needs the governor’s support.