Route 219 now open from Somerset to Meyersdale
The road is finally open.
After decades of bumps in the road, officials finally cut the ribbon Wednesday morning to open Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale while standing under the old Route 219 underpass.
To celebrate the opening, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation held a ribbon cutting. Current and former lawmakers attended the ceremony to talk about the accomplishment. The project took five years to build and cost $330 million.
“Today marks a momentous occasion not only for PennDOT, but for Somerset County and our region,” Thomas Prestash, PennDOT District 9 executive, said.
PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards talked to the crowd of about 300 people about the project.
“I don’t get to speak at events like this very often and it is truly an honor for me to be here today in Somerset,” she said.
Richards said that the new road will be safer for residents and visitors than the alternative highways in the area.
“PennDOT and many contracting partners worked diligently,” she said. “As you know this project has been in the works since 1970 and started and stopped due to other funding challenges and design work. Over the past five years we worked hard to deliver this new piece of highway we have here today.”
Richards said that being there with retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster made the day truly special.
“It is an absolute thrill to have this important occasion with Chairman Shuster,” she said.
Shuster said he has been working on the 219 project for 16 years.
“For 50 years this has been talked about,” he said. “When I first got elected and I came down to Somerset County it was very clear to me 219 is a priority.”
Funded with federal money, Shuster told the crowd that the highway represents tax dollars coming back to Somerset County.
“This is more than just a road — this is a way forward for this county and this region,” he said.
Shuster said that it is important to keep the pressure on state and federal officials to secure the funding to build the final 5.5 miles to connect to Maryland.
“I won’t mention any names, Joyce,” he said looking to his successor, U.S. Rep.-elect John Joyce.
“I jokingly look in the mirror and see 219 across my forehead. “John, trust me it is going to show up the next time you look in the mirror.”
He called the event a sweet and beautiful day.
“I gave you my word we would work hard to get this completed,” he said. “I am proud to say I lived up to my word.”
State Sen. Pat Stefano said that in his first day in office he had a meeting about 219. He said he will continue to stress the importance of the project in Harrisburg.
“This is a special day in Somerset County,” he said.
State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar told the crowd that the road is an example of the great things America can do.
“I still believe in American exceptionalism,” he said. “We are the greatest country this world has ever seen and this road is a testament to that exceptionalism. We build great things and we do it because we have freedom.”
State Rep. Matthew Dowling also vowed to continue the fight to finish the final part of the highway.
“Generations of people have come together and shown their resilience and dedication to this project,” he said.
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk, who announced last week he would not seek re-election, talked about the history of his involvement with the project.
“Our goal is to get the $250 million to complete the last 5.5 miles,” he said. “Hopefully the next group of commissioners will be able to link up with Maryland.”
He said he hopes it does not take another 50 years to complete.
“If it takes that long I know I won’t be round to see it,” he said.
Joyce said it was an honor to be at the ceremony and that his second commitment to the people of Somerset is his remarks will be brief.
“My commitment is to take that baton that Congressman Shuster, our chairman, is passing on and work hard for you and work to complete 219 in Somerset.”
Former state Sen. John Wozniak talked to the crowd about late-night dealings to keep the project alive with former State Rep. Bob Bastian and former State Sen. Rich Kasunic, both were in attendance Wednesday morning.
“It’s your turn,” he said to the new group of lawmakers present.
After the event, Richards said that federal money will be needed to complete the road to Maryland. She said that project has always had great local support. She said if the project does not get 100 percent federal funding that the department will have to look at the project.
“We’ll work with it,” she said.
Also after the event, Kasunic said that he dedicated 20 years of his career working on the project, and when it seemed that the project was being stopped, he fought back.
“There is a little piece of me in his highway,” he said.
The colors were presented by Meyersdale American Legion Post 112 and the national anthem was played by Berlin and Meyersdale high school bands.