Trump plan could help our region

President Donald Trump says shovel-ready projects will be the priority in the estimated $1 trillion infrastructure-improvement initiative over the next decade that he hopes to unveil later this year.

“If you have a job that you can’t start within 90 days, we’re not going to give you money for it,” Trump said on Feb. 4 during a White House town hall session with 52 business leaders.

Meanwhile, as reported by the Wall Street Journal on March 10, the American Society of Civil Engineers, in its latest “Infrastructure Report Card” that’s issued every four years, gave this country’s infrastructure the below-standard grade of D-plus.

The Reston, Va.-based engineering group said it would cost roughly $4.59 trillion over the next 10 years to bring the country’s roads, bridges, public schools and ports up to a safe, functioning level — about $2.064 trillion more than what the ASCE said governments and the private sector currently expect to spend.

Trump has told Congress that the infrastructure initiative he will propose is to be financed through both public and private capital. He’s right that the initiative would spur job growth.

But if there is one aspect for justifiable concern in what Trump might propose, it’s his idea of disqualifying all non-shovel-ready projects from getting money. It’s reasonable to suggest that his vigorous infrastructure venture also should set aside a percentage of money for valuable projects in more than a rudimentary stage of planning but requiring more time than the 90-day cutoff that he stated.

In the Southern Alleghenies region, one important project that should be permitted to qualify for money under the president’s plan is a four-lane limited-access Route 219 between Meyersdale and the Maryland border in southern Somerset County.

The new limited-access “219” between Somerset and the Meyersdale Bypass currently is under construction, but without a meaningful financial “jumpstart,” that final southern Pennsylvania leg of the important north-south highway could be too many more years in coming.

Politicians dropped the proverbial ball back in the late 1960s and early 1970s in not mounting an aggressive push on Route 219 South’s behalf, when the highway south of Somerset could have been built for a fraction of what the highway project currently is costing and will cost.

And, at the same time as launching improvements to existing infrastructure and providing money for some important projects not quite within the proposed 90-day cutoff, it would be great if Trump’s eventual proposal would include planning money for some other important projects.

One Southern Alleghenies project that could fit into such a category would be extending Interstate 99 to Interstate 68 in northern Maryland; that connection also is the ultimate objective behind Route 219 South.

Then there’s the long-envisioned extension of Route 22 from Hollidaysburg to Huntingdon County — like 219 South, also scuttled in the 1970s due to poor vision by politicians, planners and other officials who had the power to shepherd it to completion rather than allowing it to die.

It’s true that Trump’s infrastructure proposal could encounter roadblocks in Congress, but lawmakers representing the Southern Alleghenies region must be prepared to remind the president, when the time is right, that expanding his plan beyond shovel-ready projects would make sense.