An 11th-hour push in Washington on Wednesday may mean a new transportation bill – and, potentially, a light at the end of the tunnel for long-delayed Route 219 expansion plans.
Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle have tentatively agreed on a two-year bill overhauling federal highway programs.
If approved, that bill also would again allow the use of toll credits to complete highway efforts such as the extension of four-lane Route 219 from Somerset Township to Meyersdale.
Senate and House members had been at odds over additions pegged to earlier proposals, including a requirement that the Keystone XL oil pipeline be approved as part of the plan, a priority for House Republicans and a few Democrats.
Senate aides told The Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon the XL requirement had been cut. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal is not yet final.
Hurdles still remain. And a current bill extension expires Friday night.
Aides were working to put the agreement into legislative language so that Senate and House leaders could formally sign off.
It then would go before both chambers for approval.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster,
R-Hollidaysburg, a House transportation board member who has been among the negotiators trying to reach a compromise, was “still plugging away” at that goal on Wednesday evening, spokeswoman Gretchen Gailey said, though she could not provide a specific update.
Local leaders, including Shuster, U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, and senators Patrick Toomey and Bob Casey have fought for a new bill, pointing to its economic impact nationwide and potential boost for Route 219.
“This is about jobs. We cannot wait any longer,” Critz said this week, urging House leaders to strike a compromise.
“Let us show the American people we can work together.”
Cambria and Somerset officials have been trying to put a four-lane Route 219 from Somerset to Interstate 68 in Maryland for decades.
Their efforts have secured $350 million for an 11-mile extension to Meyersdale – but is $35 million in state aid short. Toll credits at one time could be leveraged to fill that gap, but the previous transportation bill prohibited that.
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