Regional Leaders Renew Push for Funding, Action
By Daniel Meyer
The proposed extension of the Route 219 Expressway between Salamanca and Springville continues to be identified as a key piece of the puzzle to improving transportation in the region while providing better commuter access and greatly improving public safety.
Elected officials and other major stakeholders in the community are expressing optimism that the project will come to fruition as the U.S. Congress is working on a long-term transportation funding bill. NY Representative Tom Reed expects to see that proposal emerge from conference committee in the near future. The House version of the bill creates three years of dedicated funding for roads and bridges that provides a good deal of discretion in order to prioritize local projects.
Reed, who understands how vital the Route 219 extension project is for the regional economy, plans to press Governor Andrew Cuomo to prioritize Route 219 to help bring the long-talked about project to completion.
Additionally, the Route 219 project could see additional federal funding in the future through a program called the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program. Although Reed cannot guarantee funding for Route 219 through that program, the project would qualify for funding under the competitive grant program.
“I care about completing Route 219 because it will create quality family-sustaining jobs right here in our backyards and make our regional economy more competitive,” said Reed. “This will open up a whole range of opportunities to our communities now and in the future. We will continue to fight for Route 219 and other upstate infrastructure projects that will benefit generations to come.”
The proposed project includes the construction of a four-lane divided highway extension of Route 219 approximately 20 miles from where it currently ends at the dual span bridge over Cattaraugus Creek in West Valley and continues south to I-86 in Salamanca. The concept is aimed at keeping large trucks and heavier traffic away from the small towns and villages located along Route 219, including Ellicottville. The strategy also involves improving commuter access to the City of Buffalo and other Western New York destinations.
This section of 219 would also help to complete the stretch of what will eventually become a north/south route known as “Continental 1,” a thoroughfare that would extend all the way from Canada to Florida. While most of the roadways along the Continental 1 route already exist or are currently under construction, there are still hundreds of miles that require funding to complete the project, including the roughly 20-mile stretch through Western New York.
“I continue to push as hard as I can for this because I understand the impact a completed Route 219 corridor would have on the economic conditions of Western New York,” said State Senator Catherine Young. “Anything we can do to open up our area to new opportunities is worth pursuing. An infrastructure project that will expand and enhance Route 219 remains a priority because it is good economic sense for everyone involved.”
Senator Young is working with Continental 1’s executive committee in her attempt to secure state funding for the project and remains hopeful that federal money from specially designated highway funds will help provide the proper infrastructure for the regional gateway.
“If Congressman Reed can secure federal dollars, that would help immensely,” said Young. “Federal money helps make it easier to secure state money, so I remain hopeful that we can work together because all parties involved believe in this project and have worked tirelessly to secure the necessary funding.”
“The completion of Route 219 is an ideal project for the funding that Congressman Reed is proposing,” said Meg Lauerman, Continental 1’s executive director. “He and Senator Young have worked tirelessly to educate their fellow legislators on the jobs that completed interstates like Route 219 bring to communities like Ellicottville. Route 219 is the major north-south trade corridor in our region and through Western Pennsylvania to Maryland. Pennsylvania is out on the highway today, completing 11 miles, and they and Maryland have another seven under study. We are excited to get New York back on the map and bring new jobs to Cattaraugus County.”
Money originally earmarked for the Route 219 extension and other local highway projects was pulled in 2008 because of a Department of Transportation funding error that was never corrected. In addition, more funding designated specifically for transportation projects in Western New York was slashed during the 2010 state budget crisis. The Route 219 Corridor Development Committee, a group made up of community leaders who represent various entities, has long pushed for that funding to be restored.
Further discussions about securing funding for the project will continue through the rest of this year and into 2016 as all parties involved remain unified and honed in on their common goal.
“An improved and expanded roadway will connect our region, provide new job opportunities and will also allow travelers to access safer roads,” said Young. “My dialogue with Congressman Reed will continue. I believe we can complete this project, which has been decades in the making and has involved the hard work and efforts of so many.”
For more information, visit continental1.org.