If he said it once he said it 100 times — U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster had Route 219 tattooed on his forehead.
Looking in the mirror at that hypothetical tattoo has paid off. On Friday Congress passed a transportation bill that repeals toll credit language. That language has been a roadblock for Route 219.
“It is still a priority, but it takes a little bit of pressure off me,” he said. “There is still more road to consider. That’s going to be for the next highway bill in a little over two years.”
The language change was a top priority for the Hollidaysburg Republican as it would help the state secure the additional $35 million it needs to finish Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale.
“It’s a sweet moment,” he said from Washington, D.C., Friday. “It’s been five years or so pounding away on this and it has finally become reality. It is a sweet moment for me.”
Shuster was instrumental in drafting the toll credit language and making sure it remained in the transportation bill. As a senior member of the transportation committee and a conferee, he felt confident, but he knew there was a chance it could change.
“It could have gotten taken out,” he said. “It was my top priority to keep it in there. I felt pretty confident it was going to stay in there. You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball.”
Shuster said he spoke with Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch after the Senate passed the measure by a 74-19 vote.
“He told he would like to see dirt turning in the next construction season, which is early 2013,” he said.
The bill that passed the House and Senate Friday had elements from both chambers of Congress. Shuster said House Republicans earned a victory with language to consolidate and streamline the road-building process.
“That is a huge win for the House,” he said. “That was something we stood firm on.”
The measure will reduce the time it takes for major highway projects to be completed from 14 to 15 years to seven to eight years. Factoring in inflation, it could save about $15 million a project, Shuster said.
“You can build a lot more roads and bridges with $15 million — create many, many jobs,” he said.
Shuster said he would have preferred a longer transportation bill, which would have provided more certainty in the industry.
“With more certainty people are willing to spend money, hire people and create jobs,” he said.
A repeal of the toll credit language allows toll credits, which are funds states earn from maintaining highways such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, to be used as matching funds for Appalachian Development Highway System projects. The system includes Route 219.
The bill also allows these projects to be 100 percent federally funded.