By Daniel Meyer

The long-discussed extension of Route 219 is expected to be a focal point of discussion throughout this year whenever community stakeholders gather to analyze ways to improve transportation in our region to provide better commuter access and enhance public safety.

The project calls for 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 came about as a way to attempt to keep most large trucks and heavier traffic away from the various small towns and villages located along Route 219, including Ellicottville. The strategy also involves providing much improved commuter access to the City of Buffalo and other destinations in Western New York.

This section of 219 would also help to complete the stretch of what will eventually become a north/south route known as “Continental 1.” That thoroughfare would extend from Canada to Florida. While most of the roadways along the Continental 1 route already exist or are currently under construction, there are 269 miles that still need funding to complete the project, including the 20-mile stretch through Western New York.

“A completed Route 219 corridor would transform the economic potential for Western New York, opening up our area to new opportunities spanning multiple states and Canada,” said State Senator Catharine Young. “We are so close to being finished in New York. We need to re-dedicate ourselves to achieving the ultimate goal of having this entire route constructed. With the recent calls for Governor Cuomo to reinvest the settlement funding New York State has secured into infrastructure projects, I can think of no better use for the funds than Route 219.”

Senator Young is working closely with Continental 1’s executive committee to secure state funding for the project.

“We’ve had some really good discussions, and some really good ideas have been tossed around and we believe some new possibilities will be opening up that will ultimately make the highway safer and allow us to eventually complete Route 219,” said Meg Lauerman, Continental 1’s executive director.

“2015 is looking at being a very busy year for our board of directors and all of the other supporters of our efforts to see this through,” she added. “Cathy Young’s efforts are to be commended. She is outstanding to work with and believes in this project. She has worked tirelessly to secure the necessary funding so we remain confident this will get done.”

State funding 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. More funding earmarked specifically for transportation projects in Western New York was slashed during New York’s 2010 state budget crisis. The Route 219 Corridor Development Committee, a group of dedicated community leaders representing various entities, has pushed for that funding to be restored.

“The importance of this project on the region’s tourism industry cannot be ignored,” said Crystal Abers, director of Cattaraugus County’s Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism. “With the millions of visitors who travel to and from here each year to enjoy our many tourist attractions year-round, the 219 extension would greatly improve the county’s ability to attract even more tourists. There are simply too many economic development advantages that we need to capitalize on by making this connection become a reality.”

Lauerman believes that sharing positive news with the general public is essential in 2015 as the state funding part of the equation is confirmed and further discussions with state and federal officials takes place throughout the year.

Young agrees. “Not only will an improved and expanded roadway connect our region with new trade markets and job opportunities, it also will mean safer roads for travelers and greater access to education and health care. Securing the necessary state funding for this project is at the top of my priority list for 2015. I have already begun a dialogue with Congressman Reed, who will be actively assisting with this effort on the federal level. Together, I believe we can finally achieve the goal of completing this project, which has been decades in the making.”