Rural highways aren't election winners, but Highway 219 is needed

On behalf of the members and stakeholders of Continental 1, the 3-state advocacy group working to complete U.S. Route 219 in Grantsville, I write in response to Dan Rodricks’ column, “Larry Hogan's $61.5 million 'nowhere' highway project gets underway in western Maryland,” (Dec. 14).

As you might imagine, we see things quite differently than his assessment. He raise a very thought-provoking question in his piece — how a project can “remain a priority for decades.” It seems that the question itself suggests the answer. It’s no secret that rural highways and bridges are not election winners. Away from population centers, they are not at the top of very many elected officials’ agendas. Which, we suspect, is why Congress has had such a difficult time getting rural highway funding into an infrastructure funding bill.

Yet, to the people of the communities surrounding them, infrastructure investments such as the Route 219 Realignment Project represent critical improvements to safety, mobility and access. Whether it’s protecting our families on the road, strengthening supply chains, or attracting new jobs to the area, the condition and efficiency of our road network is essential.

How can a project remain a priority for decades? Because it’s important enough that it outlasts decades of elected officials who chose to direct infrastructure funding toward higher-profile, election-winning projects. Last month, just 20 minutes north of the intersection Mr. Rodricks addressed, PennDOT opened the brand new 11-mile section of U.S. Route 219, a project that had “remained a priority” since the 1970s. It has invigorated the community and has built the foundation for economic growth in Somerset County. Leadership in Harrisburg and locally understood that an initiative that stays relevant for that amount of time is, in the end, worth the investment.

We’re thankful to Gov. Larry Hogan for feeling the same way. We understand, though, that Mr. Rodricks’ perception may be a common one among folks in the more populous areas of the state. Even though we weren’t fans of his take, we appreciate his bringing up the topic, and opening the door for discussion. We hope to host Mr. Rodricks in Garrett County again in 2019.

Craig W. Turner

The writer is executive director of Continental 1.

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