Improving the safety of existing roadways, using creative solutions to repair structurally deficient bridges and advocating for the connection of the area’s major highways with others makes transportation an ongoing theme in Cambria and Somerset counties.
The region’s biggest transportation news in 2018 was the opening of the 11-mile stretch of state Route 219 between Somerset and Meyersdale.
Since November, state highway officials “have received positive feedback on the new section from both motorists and project stakeholders,” said Tara Callahan-Henry, press officer for PennDOT District 9.
State Sen. Pat Stefano said he’s heard from several constituents, including trucking companies using the new route, about “how nice it is to get from Somerset right down into Meyersdale.
“You’re there in no time flat,” he said.
The $330 million project included $70 million in pre-construction costs, which was followed by $260 million in federal funding for grading, paving and other work.
Development of the roadway expansion began in the 1970s, when the initial right-of-way acquisitions took place before the project was put on hold pending available funding.
Design followed in the early 2000s, but a lack of construction funds delayed further work until the 2012 federal transportation bill allowed for projects in the Appalachian Development Highway System, including the 11-mile section of Route 219.
The project officially began with a groundbreaking held on Aug. 27, 2013.
The roadway’s construction included building two new interchanges, six sets of dual bridge structures and four new box culverts, along with extensive environmental mitigation including natural snow fences and wildlife crossings constructed as tunnels for animals.
Other environmental work included threatened and endangered species coordination, creation of a gameland bank, relocation and restoration of streams and creation of nearly 32 acres of wetlands.
It will likely take another phase of federal funding to complete the final five-mile extension from Meyersdale to Interstate 68 just south of the Maryland state line.
“The challenge with the section from Meyersdale to I-68 continues to be the lack of funding,” Callahan-Henry said.
“A joint state Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study was completed with Maryland in 2016, putting Pennsylvania in a strong position to move forward should funding be identified.”
Stefano said at the ribbon-cutting for the most recent stretch that he had directed PennDOT secretary Leslie Richards to Salisbury to show her the potential dangers of accumulated truck traffic exiting the highway to the south.
“The pressure has never been stronger than it is now,” with the 11-mile portion opening and Maryland officials doing their part to connect a Route 219 in Garrett County with Interstate 68, Stefano said.
Finishing Pennsylvania’s share of Route 219 “is definitely on the radar,” Stefano said.
“We really have to finish it,” he said.
In Cambria County, a $5 fee on vehicle registrations is repairing and replacing county-owned bridges previously deemed structurally deficient.
All funds generated through Act 89 stay in Cambria County for use on bridge projects and liquid fuels allocations.
Opting into Act 89 in 2016 made Cambria County eligible for Road Map, a PennDOT program that offers incentives for the fee, said Ethan Imhoff, director of the county’s planning commission.
“PennDOT will match $2 million in Act 89 revenue from counties through the Road Map program,” he said.
“Since Cambria County was an early adopter of Act 89, it was also one of the first counties to have projects funded through Road Map.”
With a little more than 21/2 years of Act 89 revenue, Imhoff said the county has received about $1.5 million in revenue for several bridge projects, along with 10 projects funded with Road Map.
In 2017, Act 89 funding was used for the rehabilitation of Little Paint Creek bridge in Richland Township, Bradley Junction bridge in Allegheny and East Carroll townships and the Vetera Dam bridge crossing between Barr and Cambria Township.
In 2018, the commissioners allocated Act 89 funding to repair the Cherry Bottom and Von Lunen Street bridges in Portage Township and Dale Borough, respectively.
“None of these projects would have taken place without the Act 89 revenue,” he said.
The Cambria County commissioners plan to address renovations for bridges in Blacklick Township, Jackson Township, Johnstown, Patton Borough and Scalp Level Borough in 2019 through use of the Road Map program.
Replacement of the county-owned Chest Creek bridge that crosses the Clearfield and East Carroll township line is also scheduled for 2019, using $908,000 in Act 89 funds.
The county also plans to rehabilitate two county-owned bridges in 2020 with funding from PennDOT’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP), including Cambria County Bridge No. 10 in Reade and White townships and Cambria County Bridge No. 23 in Adams and Croyle townships.
Each of those projects will cost an estimated $420,000. County officials plan to use an additional $1.2 million of TIP funds to replace the Amadei Road bridge in Barr Township in 2020 as well.
The county plans to use $1.25 million in Act 89 funds to replace its only closed bridge, the Red Mill Bridge in Blacklick Township, in 2021.
“There’s no way that would even be on the radar without Act 89 funding,” Imhoff said. “That bridge would be closed indefinitely.”
Cambria County Commissioner William “B.J.” Smith said “there was no plan to fix structurally deficient bridges or to reopen the Red Mill Bridge before Cambria County enacted Act 89.
“The commissioners have received positive feedback from local officials, farmers and residents about the improvements to the bridges,” he said.
Carrolltown and Johnstown
Elsewhere in Cambria County, PennDOT also has ongoing projects to improve safety and mobility in the city of Johnstown and near Carrolltown.
PennDOT is planning an improvement project for a two-mile stretch of Route 219 through Carrolltown Borough as a way to urge motorists to slow down and give the area more of a community feel.
About $4 million to $5 million will pay for resurfacing and upgrading drainage along sidewalks, curbing, pedestrian crosswalks and on-street parking.
“We are working on the right-of-way acquisition and preparing the construction contract in anticipation of the July 25 bid opening,” Callahan-Henry said.
“Construction is anticipated to start this fall with utility relocation and be completed by fall 2020.”
Repaving will start where PennDOT left off in its recent alignment of the Route 219 intersection with Route 553 through to Sunset Road.
Along with those improvements, the project includes realignment of a curve just south of the borough that now has a 20 mph advisory. The project design aims to realign that curve to allow motorists to continue at 45 mph – that section’s current speed limit on either side of the curve – according to project leaders.
PennDOT also has an ongoing study looking into designating Sunset Road to Route 36 an alternate route for trucks headed north.
In Johnstown, PennDOT held its final round of public involvement for improvements along Franklin Street.
“We are currently working with our consultant to finalize the engineering agreement and move forward with design, right-of-way and utility coordination,” Callahan-Henry said. “The project is anticipated to go to construction in 2021.”
Improvements to pedestrian and driver safety along with enhancements to traffic flow near Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center is the goal behind designing the project, which spans from Southmont Boulevard to Valley Pike.
Engineers’ latest configuration for Franklin Street’s proximity to Conemaugh’s valet parking area includes an expanded valet area to accommodate more vehicles and move the entrance of the valet area from Akers Street.
That entrance would align with a patient discharge area under the emergency department instead and that relocation should reduce backups on Franklin Street that block Akers Street when vehicles wait to turn left into the valet area, PennDOT officials said.
The project would also create a bicycle link to connect Roxbury Park with the Jim Mayer Riverswalk Trail and pedestrian barriers to direct walkers to improved crosswalks.