After failing for decades to secure state funding to extend the Route 219 Expressway through Cattaraugus County, supporters are taking a different approach.
State Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, favors the new initiative that focuses on a 1.6-mile section from Interstate 86 east of Salamanca to the rail yards in the town of Great Valley.
Sen. Young said the cost of the I-86-to-Route 219 interchange and four-lane divided highway is estimated at $100 million. It does not include $7 million needed for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the entire 28-mile corridor between Springville and Salamanca.
Over the past year, Continental 1, the lobbying group pushing for construction of a Toronto-to-Miami superhighway — including the Route 219 Expressway in New York and Pennsylvania — quietly began changing its focus as Pennsylvania began constructing short stretches of Route 219.
Meg Lauerman, executive director of Continental 1, said Friday that about 40 Route 219 supporters met privately with Sen. Young at CUTCO Cutlery in Olean on Jan. 30 to discuss the need for progress on the major north-south route in the county.
Supporters including businessmen and representatives of labor and industry, hospitals, colleges and others were in attendance. “There was a lot of enthusiasm for this final section being completed. It’s something everyone can agree upon. It’s really exciting. It’s already engineered,” Lauerman said.
“It was a very frank discussion among supporters,” Lauerman said. “Our board has been talking about this approach for the past 18 months.”
As the funding mechanisms for new highways have shifted, Continental 1 has found that in Pennsylvania it “is easier for communities to push for short sections, not 20 miles at a time, but short sections that are doable. It’s a major change for us. Everyone is energized about it.”
Continental 1 board members feel the Route 219 project at I-86 will need a review, but not the full SEIS. State Department of Transportation officials estimate the cost of the section — including a bridge across the Allegheny River — would be about $95 million, including studies. Total cost of the 28-mile freeway alternative is said to be about $700 million.
Sen. Young believes the Salamanca project would still require an SEIS for the entire corridor. She said the projected cost of the Salamanca interchange at I-86, the bridge, plus more than 1.5 miles of freeway, is about $100 million plus $7 million for the SEIS study.
“Because it is a federal highway, the feds would pay 80 percent and the state would pay 20 percent,” Sen. Young said.
More importantly, “It would help Dresser-Rand’s transportation problems getting to the Buffalo area. They have difficulty getting on Route 219 as it’s currently constructed,” she said.
Sen. Young also said, “We are reaching out to the Seneca Nation of Indians to see if they are in support of the project. It takes a decision by the Tribal Council and the President. We are very respectful of that.”
She added, “The other major component we need to resolve is securing federal funds. (U.S.) Rep. Tom Reed has been a strong advocate of finishing Route 219. We have to figure out a way we can get a federal match.”
The state has “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the $5 billion bank settlement” to help pay for major infrastructure projects across the state, Sen. Young said. “We’re looking for fairness and equity for districts around the state. We need to invest in transformative projects that will grow the economy. Route 219 fits that bill.”
Sen. Young said, “We want to make sure Dresser-Rand has what it needs from an efficiency standpoint. They are the county’s biggest employer. It is still going to take a huge push to get it done. I’m doing everything I can to get things going.”
The senator said discussions are taking place with state Department of Transportation officials over the new Route 219 initiative. “Negotiations will take place during the (state) budgeting process.”
Sen. Young said, “One new wrinkle in the mix is that Buffalo-Niagara (Partnership) will become more vocal about completion of Route 219. They understand the impact on the Buffalo-Niagara region.”
Laurman agreed, saying, “We are getting letters of support from the Buffalo area as well.
“Continental 1 is asking its supporters to write to the governor to let him know how important this new initiative is to the Olean and Salamanca areas.”
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com)