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Garrett commissioners praise effort for North/South highway funding

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County commissioners thanked and recognized The Greater Cumberland Committee executive director Brenda Smith and Dave Moe, coordinator of the North/South Appalachian Highway Coalition, during their public meeting Tuesday for helping to push the federal Surface Transportation Bill through.

“I wanted to thank you on behalf of the citizens of Garrett County,” said commission chairman Jim Raley. “Part of what made sense to me was Brenda and Dave’s efforts and the regional approach you took to this thing. When I look at the construction jobs and the kind of jobs that are going to be available, I think it’s phenomenal.”

Raley also thanked Chris Uhl, the Western Maryland coordinator for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Office; Robin Summerfield representing Sen. Ben Cardin; Julianna Albowicz representing Sen. Barbara Mikulski, all of whom were at the meeting, for their efforts on furthering the North/South Appalachian Highway project.

“It’s just another piece of the puzzle that helps benefit Garrett County and the region down the road,” added Commissioner Robert Gatto.

The $10-million plus bill, which was recently passed by the House of Representatives, allows for the completion of the Somerset-Meyersdale stretch of U.S. Route 219. The measure included much sought-after repeal of language preventing Pennsylvania from using toll credits it has accumulated as its $35 million share of the $350 million cost of completing the link.

Summerfield, who has been involved with the project since the beginning, noted that TGCC and Cardin and Mikulski accomplished something that, “was a really, really big deal and that was not an easy lift at all.”

“Not one lobbyist was involved,” said Summerfield. “This was truly a grassroots community effort to get the support of three governors, representatives and senators from three states to believe in this idea enough to support what seemed like a tiny policy in a very big bill, which is going to get the 219 portion of this highway done. That happened through all-out persistence.”

Moe said that the bill couldn’t have been passed without the assistance of O’Malley, both senators and the commissioners from Mineral, Somerset and Cambria counties.

“As a result, the legislation surprisingly did much more than we asked for,” said Moe. “… it allowed the states to fund those roadways with 100 percent federal funds.”

Smith thanked the Garrett County commissioners for their support of the project.

“I know that anytime we had come to you and asked for assistance you offered it to us without delay and in a positive manner,” said Smith, who also thanked her predecessor, Coleen Peterson, and Jim Hinebaugh of TGCC. “This has really redefined regional relevance.”

Hinebaugh said the North/South Highway project should serve as a model for other TGCC projects, including education.

Albowicz thanked everyone for their drive, vision and persistence, stating, “I think it proves that if you really believe in what you feel and think is right it comes to fruition.”

Summerfield said Moe and Peterson worked really hard and traveled a lot to get people to support the project.

“It just really speaks to the value of community efforts of all us,” said Summerfield. “I think this should really be encouraging to those of us who can grow cynical about the way the government operates. Citizens made this happen and we can do a whole lot more through that kind of effort.”

Uhl also thanked Peterson and Moe for their hard work, stating, “It’s exciting to see what’s next.”

Raley indicated that he was ready for the four-mile Maryland portion to kick in once it reaches the Maryland/Pennsylvania line.

Nicole Christian, president and CEO of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, also thanked the TGCC for its leadership in the project, noting that it was beyond the scope of what both the Allegany and Garrett county chambers could do.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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