BACK ON TRACK

Alydia Yothers (left) and Michael Trent, both of Somerset, ride a car up the steep hillside of Johnstown's Inclined Plane on Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

With PennDOT announcing that U.S. Route 219 south in Somerset County is on course to be completed within 10 years, we now have a timeline for one of the most important projects in the region.

Just over eight miles of highway must be completed to finish the four-lane road from Meyersdale to U.S. Route 68 at the Maryland line, and wrapping up the project will cost $244 million – with some of those dollars not yet in place, PennDOT said.

But we now have a schedule where there has been uncertainty – with studies, mapping, property acquisitions and construction ahead.

“We have the commitment now that we need to carry this project through to the end,” Somerset County President Commissioner Gerald Walker said Thursday, during the board’s State of the County gathering, as our David Hurst reported.

Finishing a limited-access Route 219 will move traffic out of local communities, such as Salisbury, and should be a boost to area commerce.

“Completing that highway isn’t just going to be good for the economy ... it’s going to be a lot safer for everyone,” said Bruce Hottle, president of Somerset-based Eagle Concrete.

The past few days brought a lot of good news for local transportation concerns, including the announcement of $24.4 million in federal funding for Johnstown-area projects. That funding will come from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program.

Local officials completed a grant application in June, and basically received requested dollars for all of their desired projects. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. was in Johnstown on Friday to help local leaders celebrate the news.

“A whole group of people worked together on this to get exactly what they were looking for,” William Polacek, CEO and president of JWF Industries, told reporter Dave Sutor.

“We worked with every one of our congressmen, senators, governor, state legislators.”

The federal money will break down this way:

• $11.3 million for the Johnstown train station;

• $5.7 million for downtown greenways beautification;

• $3.6 million for the CamTran’s downtown busing center;

• $3 million for urban connectivity trails;

• $880,000 for the Johnstown Inclined Plane.

“All of those things get tied together,” Daniel Penatzer, Johnstown’s acting city manager, told The Tribune-Democrat. “One component helps the other.”

Completing Route 219 will provide a commerce gateway for our entire region – connecting Cambria and Somerset counties with Maryland, West Virginia, and points south.

Likewise, the Johnstown projects will boost access locally for visitors and residents alike, while shoring up some of our most important assets and moving the Iron to Arts Corridor concept in the city forward.

Casey said the federal dollars will help Johnstown “begin to take action on projects vital to the economic health of the region.”

Coupled with $30 million in COVID-19 relief money available to the city, this funding signals an era of “gigantic opportunity” for Johnstown, as city economic development director John Dubnansky noted.

“The $24 million is a reflection of Johnstown coming together to get things done,” Mike Tedesco, president and CEO of Vision Together 2025, said. “This is just the beginning. There is more to come.”

We look forward to seeing local leaders fulfill that promise and build on this significant transportation moment moving forward – for the benefit of all businesses and residents of the two counties.

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