The long-awaited stretch of Route 219 in Somerset County between Meyersdale and Somerset is projected to begin in late spring or early summer. PennDOT district 9, which includes Somerset County, is in the final stages of securing the necessary permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. Proposals began circulating for this 11-mile stretch of Route 219 nearly 40 years ago.
District Portfolio Manager Jim Pruss said the $300 million is in place, all federal funding that was part of the 2012 transportation bill, and the right-of-way has been cleared. After the permits are issued, PennDOT will advertise for bids.
But even once the first heavy equipment begins digging, it will likely be five years before vehicles are moving on the roadway. Why so long? Pruss said it will take three years just to do the excavation--moving 10 million cubic yards of earth.
"We're dealing with an area in Somerset County that is in general terms very mountainous," Pruss said. "There's a lot of hills there, very close to Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania; just to try to balance the earthwork that has to be moved from one hillside to a valley and vice versa."
But construction of the roadway still has to wait. "Even after the earth's moved , we have some massive structures such as at the Buffalo Creek area where that earth is going to have to settle or consolidate. We'll quarantine it for a period of a year or a year-and-a-half before we can even start constructing bridges on top of it because there's so much earth we're putting in, we have to let it compact over time."
According to Pruss one of the benefits of building this four-lane stretch of the roadway is economic growth. "Tying some desolate areas of the county to parts north; tying Meyersdale for example to the turnpike in Somerset and all the way up to Johnstown on 219. It's going to start opening up that area to some types of development."
But he added the new roadway will provide a safer option to a commonly used shortcut between Meyersdale and Somerset. "The Garrett Shortcut experiences a lot of white-outs and treacherous conditions in the winter and a lot of times we have to close it because of that. This alignment will be a lot safer," Pruss said. "As well as the coal industry and other businesses in the area, they'll have a more efficient means of transporting their goods and services to the region."
Pruss admits it's a challenging task but... "this is the type of project that if you go to school to be an engineer, this is your dream project. This is a once-in-a-lifetime project for most engineers-- if they're lucky."