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Local, state leaders celebrate groundbreaking of Rt. 219 South expansion

SOMERSET COUNTY, Pa. -- It's a project that's been more than 40 years in the making and one, some said, they're not sure they'd ever see completed.

In just about a week, crews will be busy clearing dirt as the first phase of the Route 219 South expansion project gets underway. On Tuesday, state and county leaders gathered with the community to celebrate the official groundbreaking.

"As we all know there were a lot of naysayers, people saying it can't be done," said Republican Rep. Bill Shuster. "(They said), 'It's too big of a project,' but here we are today standing here and it's going to be a reality."

Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony was a day of long-awaited celebration and one many officials thought would never come.

"I was told there was photographic evidence that there was a committee meeting on this in Washington six years before I was born," said Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.

But on Tuesday morning, state and local leaders officially broke ground for the project.

It's a project that looks to be finally coming to fruition through the help of those who kept on pushing.

"Ever since I got elected, since day one, I started working on this and I haven't given up since," said Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk. "Let me tell you what though, I had my doubts along the way."

The project will be completed in three phases and is expected to take about five years. By 2018 officials said there will be 11 miles of new four-lane highway stretched from Somerset to Meyersdale.

"It will help improve traffic flow and ease congestion, which will enhance safety for the motoring public and for all," said Cawley.

The first phase of the project is scheduled to begin by September. Heavy machinery is already in place at the end of the current four-lane highway as crews get ready to move 10 million cubic yards of earth.

The second phase of the project will be the construction of six bridges, one of which will become one of Pennsylvania's largest -- a 216 by 1,100 foot bridge that will bypass Buffalo Creek and hilly terrain.

In the third phase of the project, crews will build and pave the roads and construct two interchanges, connecting traffic from the new highway to Old Rt. 219, the Garrett Shortcut and other local roads.

The project also includes some natural boundaries that PennDOT said will help deter blowing snow on a highway notoriously known for it's treacherous surface in the winter.

"Every time you turn around, the Garrett Shortcut was closed because of snow drifts and it drifted terribly over there on the winter time," said Vatavuk. "(The project) should prevent a lot of that, plus, I know a lot of people who live along there that will be happy to see the coal truck traffic out of their front yards."

But the project comes with a hefty price tag -- $350 million the federal government has been saving for years.

"Let me put a shout out to the millions, hundreds of millions of motorists in the U.S. purchasing billions of dollars of gasoline," said Sen. John Wozniak. "It was those nickels, pennies and dimes that bring a project like this to central Pennsylvania." 

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times