The biggest challenge when it comes to expanding the region’s transportation connections is funding.
Allocations from outside sources that helped ensure the completion of Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale have been discontinued by legislation, meaning PennDOT officials must stay within the funding distributed by the state each year.
“We have to abide by those grand totals,” said Tom Prestash, district executive of PennDOT District 9. “It’s all about doing the right project at the right time. There’s always more needs out there than dollars.”
In the past two years, PennDOT’s District 9 has dedicated $40 million for 50 miles of resurfacing and 15 bridge projects in Cambria County.
“Good work has been done,” Prestash said. “We’re driving that number (in need of upgrades) down, getting that list of priorities done.”
In addition, Prestash said new technology, products and construction methods expand a new or rebuilt structure’s lifespan.
“Our goal is to get 100 years out of it,” he said.
The district has numerous projects planned for 2017, including improvements to trails and sidewalks, along with bridges and highways.
One of projects will be the $8.3 million replacement of Moxham’s Central Avenue bridge over the Stonycreek River in the city of Johnstown, along with 10.4 miles of concrete pavement rehabilitation on Route 219 from its connection with Route 422 to the northern end of the four-lane highway in Cambria and East Carroll townships.
Cambria County projects slated for completion in 2018 include the replacement of the Chestnut Street bridge carrying Route 271 over the south branch of Blacklick Creek in Nanty Glo at a cost of $2 million, and resurfacing nearly
5 miles of Eisenhower Boulevard from Route 403 to Route 56 in Stonycreek and Richland townships for $2.4 million.
219 progress, challenges
With much of the earth-moving work and structure completed, Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale is still projected to be open to traffic in mid-summer 2018.
The $300 million project, which was supplemented by the Appalachian Highway System, is 11 miles of four-lane highway that will include six new bridges and two new interchanges at Mason-Dixon Highway in Meyersdale and Mud Pike Road.
The structure of the $18.9 million, 1,100-foot-long bridge over Buffalo Creek, the centerpiece of the project, is about 90 percent finished, Prestash said, and will be completed in 2017.
In August, workers set beams atop the bridge’s 220-foot-tall piers – a height that challenged contractors, especially during windy conditions. Eventually, extra-large cranes were brought in to get the work done.
The Mud Pike, Garrett Shortcut, Walter’s Mill and Pine Hill bridges have been completed, while the Swamp Creek Bridge is still under construction, with most of its substructure in place.
Paving, which was contracted to New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co., got underway in September. About 2 or 3 miles have been completed, Prestash said.
The completion of this project will take a step toward connecting Route 219 in Cambria and Somerset counties with Interstate 68 in Garret County, Maryland. But PennDOT officials say it will take another $250 million to complete the remaining 6 miles.
“We’re trying to figure out how to fund that,” Prestash said.
Maryland officials are already moving forward, after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s 2015 allocation of $90 million for design, right-of-way acquisition and construction to re-align Route 219 in Maryland between I-68 and the Mason-Dixon Line. At the time of this announcement, Hogan hoped to see construction begin in 2018.
The project, which has been on hold since 2008, would pass through Elk Lick and Summit townships in Somerset County. A planning and environment linkages study has been completed through PennDOT, the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland State Highway Administration and Federal Highway Administration.
The completion of this study will ease the process for future development if and when funding becomes available, Prestash said.
On Feb. 6, Maryland transportation officials held an open house about the improvement of the Route 219 between Interstate 68 in Grantsville and Old Salisbury Road, about 1.4 miles north of the I-68/Route 219 interchange.
‘Transforming ... economy’
Officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration presented three finalists for the project.
One of those proposals suggested widening the existing alignment of Route 219 between the I-68 interchange and Old Salisbury Road by adding one 12-foot-wide travel lane in each direction before transitioning back to a two-lane highway at Old Salisbury Road.
The second proposal involved adding two new 12-foot-wide travel lanes in each direction to the existing alignment of Route 219, leading into a two-lane roundabout to provide access to the Pilot Travel Center and bridge Route 219 over Route 40 Alternate before rejoining the existing Route 219 at Old Salisbury Road, near the entrance to a proposed Casselman Farm industrial park.
Under this alternative, the existing I-68/Route 219 interchange would remain in use.
The last proposal would create a new interchange – replacing the existing intersection between I-68’s ramps and Route 219 with a two-lane roundabout and a new road alignment that would loop around the Pilot Travel Center as a four-lane divided highway, cross over Route 40 Alternate on a bridge and continue about 1 mile north before rejoining the existing Route 219 at Old Salisbury Road.
The current exit ramp from I-68 westbound to Route 219 would be realigned and lengthened to tie into the new roundabout in this proposal.
All three proposals include possible impacts to historical sites, environmental areas and private property, officials said, but construction is still slated to begin sometime in 2018.
David Moe, North-South Appalachian Highway Coalition coordinator, said in August that completing the Maryland portion of the work would create more incentive for Pennsylvania to fund and complete the last 6 miles of the project.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster said expanding Route 219 has been and will continue to be one of his top priorities in Congress.
“This expansion is not just about a new road – it is about transforming a region’s economy, and that’s what I believe these investments can do over time,” he said.
“Extending to Maryland is something that I will also continue to speak strongly about as state and local officials make decisions on where to invest federal infrastructure funding.”
Newly elected state Sen. Wayne Langerholc was recently named vice chairman of the state’s transportation committee and has already spoken to his constituents about what it will take to bridge the gap from Route 219 to I-68.
Peggy Westover Curve
One of the biggest complaints drivers make about the 14.2-mile trip on Route 56 from Windber, Somerset County, to Pleasantville, Bedford County, is the Peggy Westover Curve.
But PennDOT officials say realigning the hairpin curve notorious for a high number of serious crashes will take years to complete and upward of $64 million.
While realignment of the curve is in the department’s long-range plan, PennDOT partnered with project engineers from The Burns Group to perform a safety study aimed at completing smaller, less expensive projects to make the roadway safer in the meantime.
At open house events in December, PennDOT District 9 project manager Alice Hammond said the main objective of these smaller projects is to address issues most complained about by regular commuters – including speed, truck traffic, visibility and signage.
The road sees an average traffic load of 3,600 vehicles in Bedford County and 8,900 vehicles in Somerset County each day. Project engineers say the biggest delays in traffic come where trucks are ascending and descending Pleasantville Mountain.
Likewise, engineers have determined that most of the speeding on the roadway occurs in the eastbound lane, where many cars are trying to get around slow-moving trucks before heading up the mountain.
Along with improvements to deteriorating bridges and a sign alerting drivers to their speed approaching the Peggy Westover Curve, plans for truck brake check pull-off areas have also been proposed, along with narrowing lanes with expanding shoulders at the top of the mountain to urge drivers to slow down.
Plans also were proposed to re-align the intersections of Verla Drive and Graham Avenue with Route 56 in Ogle Township, Somerset County. State police have been consulted to evaluate effective speed enforcement of the entire corridor.
All of these projects proposed for Route 56 are still in the planning phase and will have to go through a final design phase. PennDOT expects to make an official announcement about each project and its estimated costs at a meeting this spring.