After decades of pushing, Route 219 extension opens in Somerset County

A truck passes a sign on U.S. Route 219 on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, announcing that the 11-mile section between Somerset and Meyersdale is now open.

The opening of a stretch of U.S. Route 219 on the day before Thanksgiving brought a moment for celebration and reflection.

This should also be a moment for rededication to finishing this important north-south highway.

An 11-mile stretch of limited-access, four-lane roadway now extends from Somerset to Meyersdale, thanks to a $330 million endeavor that began in 2013 but which conceptually goes back decades.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 21, G. Henry Cook – chairman and CEO of Somerset Trust Co. – recalled a state transportation director once telling him “it would be a cold day in hell” when 219 south was built.

Although snow is flying in Somerset County, we can’t allow that statement to apply to the road’s final 5.5-mile stretch, which will take 219 past the town of Salisbury and connect with east-west Interstate 68 near Grantsville, Maryland.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House transportation committee, called the new portion of the highway “a way forward for this county and for this region. We have to make sure that we work hard and be vigilant to continue the work that needs to be done.”

There is a safety factor. The completion of this project should allow PennDOT to move pass-through truck traffic off two-lane Route 160 – where residents of Wellersburg saw another truck wreck in recent weeks – and onto Route 219.

And there is an economic factor. Improving this transportation corridor should help open Somerset, Johnstown and other communities to visitors and commerce from the south.

“There’s no question this is an historic day because this roadway will change the life of Somerset County,” said Ron Aldom, executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce. “It will change the life of the people of Somerset.”

“This is the culmination of a lot of years of hard work by good citizens and elected officials,” Cook said. “This is a real victory for Somerset County.” 

We share in the enthusiasm shown by Aldom, Cook and others, who have extolled the benefits of this project and worked with elected officials at the state and federal levels to secure necessary funding.

Shuster, who did not run for re-election, passed the mantle of federal responsibility to Congressman-elect John Joyce, who will represent Somerset County and the rest of the new 13th district.

Joyce will need partners locally as well as in Harrisburg and Washington.

We know area leaders will not sit back and relax until the highway is finished, with four-lane travel from Ebensburg through Johnstown, south to Cumberland, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and beyond.

Maryland committed $90 million to design and construction of a 68-219 interchange back in 2015.

Now, Pennsylvania has to complete the road to that point.

As Maryland was doing its part, Glenn Miller Jr. of the  Greater Cumberland Committee – an organization dedicated to completing 219 – noted that it would be “a waste of money” to extend 219 to Meyersdale but not remove the missing link into Maryland.

“Pennsylvania has such tremendous possibilities; it should be a slam dunk,” Miller said, noting that “we have a lot of work to do left in Pennsylvania.”

Yes we do.

We can celebrate for now.

Then we must get back to work on completing this important highway.

Trending Video

Recommended for you