Officials tout 219 opening at after party
Somerset Trust Co. CEO Henry Cook said that years ago a state transportation department secretary had a bleak outlook on Route 219 construction. Cook said the secretary told a local group of leaders that the road will be built when a cold phenomenon occurs in the netherworld.
“When this road will be built, it will be a cold day in Hell,” Cook recalled the secretary saying. “Yeah, pretty close, pretty close.”
On Wednesday it was chilly outside, but icicles likely weren’t forming in Hades. Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale, however, is finished.
That portion of highway opened Wednesday as temperatures dipped near the 20s. About 200 people gathered at Morguen Toole Co. after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Somerset Interchange. Current and former elected and public officials spoke about the roadway before partaking in a buffet.
Meyersdale Area Merchants Association President Julie Kreger said that she will be happy to drive the new Route 219 to avoid other thoroughfares.
“I can’t wait to get on it and be off the Garrett Shortcut,” Kreger said. “Especially in winter.”
The next portion of the road that is to be constructed is 5.5 miles to Maryland and about a mile across the state line to Interstate 68 in Maryland. U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster said that there is federal money available, but that funds are competitive nationally. Shuster pointed to money in a highway bill that could be obtained with a 60/40 split between the federal government and the state.
“The possibility of getting money in the coming years . . . it’s not going to be easy,” Shuster, current U.S. transportation committee chairman, said of the funds. “It’s always a struggle.”
Former state Sen. Richard Kasunic said that the construction of Route 219 is one of the first things he heard about when he joined the campaign trail. Kasunic said the work is important for public safety, and that he and fellow elected officials advocated for years for funding. Kasunic represented the 32nd District, which included parts of Somerset County, since 1994. He retired in 2014.
“We begged and we pleaded,” he said. “My knees were bloody from begging.
“We’re almost there now.”
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said that his two biggest accomplishments while in office have been Route 219 and the USS Somerset, a Navy ship named after the county for the 9/11 terrorist attack on Flight 93.
U.S. Rep.-elect John Joyce, who will be replacing Shuster in January, said that he recently spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about Route 219 at a brief meeting. Joyce said the secretary smiled at him when he mentioned the Somerset to Meyersdale portion opening.
“It’s going to be like Christmas Day in Somerset,” he said he told Chao about the opening.
Meyersdale Mayor Mike Brant said he feels that with the new road and the borough’s tax rate, the town could see a boost in population. “It’s going to be a game-changer for us,” Brant said.