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December 05, 2021

Infrastructure bill will bolster regional plans

Credit: Cumberland Times-New, Lindsay Renner-Wood

CUMBERLAND — The recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act spells the completion of long-awaited transportation projects, along with modernizing the region in other critical ways, officials say.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion bill into law last month. It funds a range of initiatives from construction and repair of highways and bridges to broadband internet and clean drinking water. From the bill’s provisions, West Virginia will receive roughly $6 billion and Maryland nearly $8 billion, including an estimated $3 billion and $4.1 billion for federal highway projects, respectively. Pennsylvania will receive nearly $20 billion, including $11.3 billion for highways. 

Among the chief benefits of the bill, U.S. Reps. David Trone (D-Md.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) said in recent interviews, is the completion of regional transportation projects like the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS).

That includes finishing U.S. Route 219 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, which would connect Meyersdale to Old Salisbury Road in Grantsville once complete. Pennsylvania officials recently announced that the four-lane, 6.5 mile stretch of the highway is expected to be finished in mid-2031.

Funds from the bill could also be used to construct a north-south highway along the U.S. Route 220 corridor in Mineral and Allegany counties that would connect with Corridor H at the northern end and Interstate 68 at the southern.

In June, Trone joined with a bipartisan congressional coalition to introduce the Finish the ADHS Act, which was included in the infrastructure bill. Because of the bill’s passage, over the course of five years, $1.25 billion will be spent on completing unfinished parts of the highway system across Appalachia. The ADHS is approximately 90% complete.

“I think the biggest victories for Allegany and Garrett Counties through this law are completing the Appalachian Development Highway System, broadband funding, and all the jobs and career pathways that will come with these efforts,” Trone said via email. “… The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes a framework from my bill which will provide nearly $70 million in federal funding to complete Maryland’s portion of the ADHS. Maryland can now use this funding to complete essential transportation projects like Route 219.”

While funding for the Fayette Street bridge in Cumberland was cut from the final version of the bill, Trone noted that the city was eligible to apply for funding from the “$12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion of national funding in the law dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.”

While specific local figures weren’t available, Trone said that an estimated 148,000 Maryland residents don’t have broadband internet connections. Maryland will receive $100 million to expand connectivity statewide.

Trone projected that the bill would create “thousands” of new jobs statewide.

“This effort isn’t just about infrastructure, it’s also about building a workforce that can keep up with other countries,” Trone wrote. “We want to secure our competitiveness in the 21st century — this law does just that.”

Officials with the nonprofit The Greater Cumberland Committee, a longtime proponent of the road projects, commended the passage in a statement.

“Individual entities advocating for individual projects is not nearly as effective as coalitions working together for a common goal. Regional collaboration is the common thread in all of our work and we are now seeing the fruits of our labor in this significant and historic funding opportunity,” said TGCC Executive Director Jennifer Walsh.

“This announcement, along with Pennsylvania’s recent statement committing to finishing 219 by 2031, brings to fruition several decades of work by multiple groups and people to finally push this project toward the finish line,” Garrett County Commissioner Paul Edwards said in the statement. “Connectivity is the key to economic growth, and that connectivity is both digital (broadband) and physical (roads). This region is committed to building the infrastructure of both. I, along with many others, really appreciate the more recent work of TGCC and the local, state, and national politicians in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia that have made this project move. Rural areas need to work together to see meaningful progress and this is an excellent example of that!”

Carpendale could get bridge to Maryland

McKinley met earlier this month with Mineral County officials, he said, to discuss the different ways the legislation could impact residents.

Among other things, the bill will help complete Corridor H, which is “long overdue,” McKinley said. There’s also the potential to secure funds for building a bridge spanning the Potomac River to connect Carpendale with Maryland, likely near the Upper Potomac Industrial Park on the Maryland side.

Construction of the Carpendale bridge, McKinley said, could ease long-standing transportation concerns that officials from the Kingsford Charcoal plant have previously raised, as well as providing another route in and out of the town.

“I think now, at the very least, we could get a modest bridge across,” McKinley said. “They’ve got all kinds of problems taking a semi through Ridgeley and under the bridge. They’ve been hung up across railroad tracks. We’re trying to find another way to get them in, and that seems to be one way.”

McKinley said he and Trone have also worked closely on securing the north-south highway connection in Mineral County that would connect Route 220 and I-68 at the northern terminus and Corridor H at the southern end. The bill’s passage brings that roadway closer to reality, he said.

“This now increases the likelihood that we’ll be able to do that, because the problem prior to that is that we didn’t have the money,” McKinley said. “We’re going to see a lot more money flow into our highway program. The north-south highway has been on everyone’s radar for years, but it’s been held up by money.”

Voting for the region’s future

The infrastructure bill passed its House vote 228-206. All but six Democrats, including Trone, voted for the bill, and McKinley was one of 13 Republicans who voted for its passage.

Trone’s reasoning for “proudly” voting for the bill was direct.

“I proudly voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act because the evidence was clear: we needed to take decisive action to strengthen our infrastructure, create good-paying jobs, and protect our environment for generations to come,” Trone said in the email.

Asked for his reasons for voting in support of the bill, McKinley said that he didn’t understand why his fellow West Virginia Reps. Alex Mooney and Carol Miller didn’t do the same. McKinley and Mooney are both running to represent West Virginia’s newly-created 2nd Congressional District in 2022, following the state losing a seat in Congress due to census totals.

The vital nature of the bill’s provisions, McKinley said, transcends partisan fights.

“I’ve waited 11 years — six years under President Obama and four years under President Trump — to vote for (an infrastructure) bill,” McKinley said. “U.S. News and World Report ranked West Virginia’s infrastructure as being last, 50th in the nation. I think our per capita income is either 48th or 49th. I hate being too negative, but we may never be able to dig our way out of this hole without some federal program.”

In meeting with county commissions across his district, McKinley said, he frequently heard that they were unable to fund critical projects themselves due to a lack of revenue.

“I know my party wanted me to vote no, but my vote was for West Virginia and our region,” McKinley said. “(Gov. Jim Justice) and I have talked often about this, and he asked for my support. I’m not going to play politics. Sometimes, you have to put that hat aside and say ‘What’s best for my constituents? What’s best for this part of the country?'”

“I’m proud to have done it,” McKinley said of voting in support of the legislation. “I think it begs the question why did (Mooney and Miller) vote no?”