Many people brave the icy wind to be part of ‘a historic day’

November 22, 2018

Diane Bittner, a retired dairy farmer from Berlin, said she felt it was important Wednesday to attend the ribbon-cutting celebration for the finished section of Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale. She attended the event with her husband, Barry.

More than 300 people braved the icy winds to celebrate the long-awaited stretch of four-lane highway.

Bittner also went to the event to take photos for a long-time friend, Kate Keidel, former owner of Keidel Hardware in Berlin. Her 94-year-old friend now lives near Harrisburg with her children and was unable to attend, so she asked Bittner to take photos and send them to her.

“She always said she wanted to be one of the first to drive the new 219 extension,” Bittner said. “But she agreed the photos will be a nice fallback plan.”

For Bittner, experiencing the first day of the newly constructed 11-mile section of Route 219 in Somerset County is a bonus.

After the ceremony, she rushed back to pick up her in-laws to drive them on the new section of the highway from Somerset to Meyersdale and back.

Others attending said they remember the beginning of the highway’s construction, which began in the 1970s, but was stopped because of funding. The four-lane highway extends north to near Carrolltown.

“When I was in junior high, I went to the opening of 219 in Davidsville,” said Lladel Lichty, who is involved with numerous community projects.

Calling the event “an historic day for Somerset County and beyond,” she said the new stretch of highway could do nothing but benefit the region.

Dean Hillegas, 88, of Meyersdale, said he would recall moments from the day’s celebration and share them with his friend, Paul Gnagy, 98, of Somerset, who was unable to attend because of the weather. They have been waiting for this day for about 50 years. They both were among the original members of the Route 219 Coalition. That group started the thrust toward a four-lane highway.

The goal now is to connect Route 219 to Interstate 68 in Maryland.

For many in the crowd it was a thrill to be a part of something new.

“I can’t wait to ride on it,” said Beverly Chalk, of Glencoe, who was willing to brave the cold.

Tina Illig, of Ebensburg, and her 3-year-old grandaughter, Liliah Illig, were thrilled to be at the event. Liliah more than likely was the youngest attendee Wednesday, and was more concerned about her brother’s birthday than with the crowd as she snuggled deep into several blankets.

“It has been so long in the making and now it is finally here,” Tina Illig said. “The connection will be good for the whole region.”

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