With the dirt all but ready to fly for the $300 million extension of four-lane Route 219 south from Somerset to Meyersdale, Cambria County officials are working to draw some attention up the road toward the winding, often congested northern leg of the same highway.
Ethan Imhoff, executive director of the Cambria County Planning Commission, has initiated an effort that is gaining steam among municipal leaders beyond Ebensburg and the end of the four-lane section of the highway.
Representatives from Carrolltown and Northern Cambria boroughs have been named to the Route 219 Committee.
Imhoff is seeking involvement from the townships of Cambria and East and West Carroll and others impacted by the highway.
Also a part of the task force will be a representative from the PennDOT district office in Hollidaysburg, he said.
“Our effort will be a corridor plan. We’re looking at the 219 corridor as it exists and the need to develop a plan,” he said.
Route 219, from where the four-lane ends in Cambria Township through to the Cambria-Clearfield county line, has long been a source of discontent for motorists.
Until several years ago it was the subject of an aggressive highway completion initiative.
Unlike Route 219 south, the northern stretch was overlooked when Congress adopted the Appalachian Highway Development System, an initiative to bring modern highways to the 13 states along the Appalachian Mountain range.
The congressional approval came in 1965, involving 3,090 miles. Most efforts to add additional mileage through amended legislation have been unsuccessful.
AHDS money is fully funding the Route 219 extension in Somerset County.
While Imhoff and the task force may not yet be setting their sights on a four-lane, limited access Route 219 north, they want to look at all options and begin developing a plan to find funding.
“We’ll be pulling together a long-term plan,” said Lonnie Batdorf, Carrolltown borough manager and an alternate member of the task force. “Not a lot has been happening on Route 219, as far as money is concerned.”
PennDOT has been chipping away at some concerns by addressing a couple of sight distance issues as part of a safety program. But when it comes to big dollars, the state just doesn’t have the money, said Tom Prestash, executive for Penn-DOT’s District 9.
Still on the state’s planning agenda are significant improvements to Sunset Road, a secondary route linking Carrolltown to the Patton area. A new alignment would be built on Route 36 north to the county line outside Westover.
Steps would be taken to encourage through traffic to use the improved route, he said.
“Unfortunately, with funding constraints, that project is currently on hold,” Prestash said Friday. “But it’s kind of on the horizon. It’s on our radar screen.”
The estimated cost of improving the Route 219 link to Route 36 is $20 million.
“When you compare that with a new four-lane, it’s reasonable,” he said.
A role of the newly formed task force is to provide local input and guide the process toward key issues and options, Imhoff said.
“We’ll be looking at the Route 219 corridor, and Sunset Road will be included,” Prestash said.
Local property owners and businesses will be considered, and attempts will be made to gather their thoughts, he said.
“It’s important for the people living in these municipalities to discuss what’s best for them,” he said.
Some impacted municipalities have not named representatives to the group. Imhoff hopes they do so by late March because meetings are to start by early summer.
A plan could be in place in about 18 months, he said.
Batdorf also is hopeful the idea will catch on and generate results.
“I’m supportive of the planning commission. They’re trying to pull together some support and some ideas,” he said. “It’s only going to work if there is broad support.”