Route 219 expansion project on target for completion in summer 2018

The Route 219 expansion is one of the biggest highway projects in Somerset County in 40 years.

The Route 219 expansion is one of the biggest highway projects in Somerset County in 40 years.

It is not only changing the landscape; it's already beginning to transform the local economy.

It took decades to get federal money and environmental clearances for the project, but crews finally dug in back three years ago.

The project is to be completed by the summer of 2018.

"We can't wait. It will serve the area for many, many decades to come," PennDOT district executive Tom Prestash said. "Six new bridges and this is the granddaddy of them all -- the Buffalo Creek Bridge, which stands 220 feet high."

The project involves more than 9 million tons of steel, 35,000 cubic yards of concrete, plus enough dirt to fill Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to the top of its lights.

When the project is completed, the 11-mile stretch of four-lane highway will be safer than the old Route 219.

"When you look at this corridor and the road that was connecting from Somerset to Meyersdale, there were a lot of deficiencies," Prestash said. "We've seen a higher crash rate on this corridor."

The payoff will be economic development.

"It's a transportation corridor that connects 68 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and to Johnstown," said Rep. Bill Shuster, 9th District. "This is going to be an important corridor, and when you build roads like this, there's going to be some people who criticize them.

"But we've seen in 99 and 81 and interstates across this country, it attracts jobs, it attracts businesses."

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said the new highway project will benefit many in the region.

"I keep telling people, Cambria County will benefit as much or more than Somerset County in this, because the people who need to get south are in Cambria County," he said. "Galliker's, Pepsi, all those (businesses) who need to get south."

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