Presently only certain highway projects qualify for the money. In Pennsylvania, eight highway corridors qualify, including Corridor N, which is Route 219. Under the federal transportation law, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, states must notify the federal government as to how they plan to spend their system money. Pennsylvania has $540.5 million left in the fund and an estimated $3.1 billion in costs to complete highways in the eight corridors.
"We are moving forward with Route 219 as expeditiously as we can," Jim Ritzman, deputy secretary for planning for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said in a telephone interview. "We are waiting for the final environmental permit to proceed."
Only about $103.9 million will remain in the pot after the Meyersdale to Somerset four-lane Route 219 is built. The last estimated cost of construction of the segment from Meyersdale to Maryland was $250 million. To add to the problem, in July Congress changed the way the system is funded. The system is now included as part of the larger Surface Transportation Program. Ritzman said that means that future projects will all have to compete for the same money.
"Projects don't advance unless we have evidence of how to fund the construction," he said. "There needs to be a financial commitment. And we have a tremendous amount of existing infrastructure that needs work. While the Meyersdale to Somerset section is 100 percent funded, we would have to figure out a way to pay for the rest. We're not looking to build new highways when we can't fix those that are already built."
On March 28 Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley offered to use Maryland's system money to pay for planning studies to complete Route 219 from Meyersdale to Maryland. Ritzman said that Gov. Tom Corbett has not yet replied to O'Malley's letter.
PennDOT Deputy Press Secretary Erin Waters-Trasatt said if the governor's transportation funding plan is approved, it could generate more money for highway projects. Another way to free some funds would be through Public Private Transportation Partnership projects. This law allows PennDOT and other authorities and commissions to partner with private companies to deliver, maintain or finance transportation-related projects.
Dave Moe, coordinator of the North-South Appalachian Highway Coalition, said Maryland, Virginia and other states have increased their gas tax in part so they can provide the required 20 percent state match for non-system projects.
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk agreed that if a state transportation bill is passed, there is a remote chance that money could be freed for highway construction. He is also hopeful that the bids for construction of the Meyersdale to Somerset portion of Route 219 will come in lower than anticipated. The combination of leftover system money, state money and remaining Meyersdale to Somerset funding may be enough to pay for the Meyersdale to Maryland portion, he said.
"It's a possibility," he said. "I never give up."