I had shared in the half-century dream of many DuBois area residents and businesses: An Interstate-level Route 219 from Canada south through Buffalo to Maryland, then either directly to Florida or seamlessly connecting with other Interstate routes.
It did not happen.
We came oh, so close.
A quarter-century ago, we had two area House of Representatives incumbents who chaired powerful House committees and got things done through those influences. Rep. Bill Clinger of Warren got climbing lanes to our north, between Brockway and Ridgway, and a bypass around Bradford near the New York state line.
But Clinger is long retired. His successors, John Peterson and incumbent Glenn Thompson, have not acquired powerful chairmanships, and another highway development to our south lessened the need for Route 219 upgrading.
Rep. Bud Shuster of Altoona got four-lane status for Route 219 near Johnstown to our south. Shuster also got the north-south Route 220 through his Altoona stomping grounds rebuilt as Interstate 99, then fish-hooked it northeast from Bald Eagle past State College to within shouting distance of the east-west Interstate 80 near Bellefonte.
When hopes dimmed for a full-fledged Interstate-level Route 219 as an economic bonanza, a “Corridor O” plan for another fishhook off I-99 emerged. This would have connected I-99 to I-80 from Port Matilda northwesterly toward Woodland, just east of Clearfield. It would have been longer and twistier than a straightened Route 219, but significantly less expensive in land acquisition costs.
Bud Shuster’s son and successor, Rep. Bill Shuster, came to a committee chairmanship, also the Transportation Committee. We had hopes.
Bill Shuster will retire this year.
That retirement reduces Route 219 improvements to might-have-been, pipe dream status.
I found out why during recent trips to Florida.
We drive, and visit family en route.
My wife and I both hate truck-laden, crowded Interstate 95 along the East Coast, and are almost as tensed up by I-81 through western Virginia or I-75 curling southeastward from Detroit toward Tampa.
So whenever possible, we have taken to using non-Interstate roads. We have found long stretches of U.S. Route 1 and Route 29 in Virginia and the Carolinas to be the old-style four-lane, or straight and fairly level two-lane. Sure, there are a few towns and a few stop lights.
But there is little traffic — and almost no truck traffic except for local-area trucks.
For me as a driver, that is a blessing. My eyesight and reaction time are both declining. On 95, 81 or 75, I end up with stiffened shoulder blades, tightened stomach muscles and exhaustion after hours-long stretches fighting the lane-changing “zippers” and the trucks that insist on pulling out directly in front of me, then taking a full mile or more to pass another truck, etc.
By contrast, the pre-Interstate main roads can be actually relaxing to drive, especially in daylight. We also see more of local communities, finding interesting farm stores and veggie stands as well.
So, as a driver, I love those roads. I drive at 60 miles per hour or so instead of the 70-75 on the Interstates. But it is a steady 60, not forcing the cruise control on-off, off-on ad nauseam. If we lose an hour in a 10-hour day, so what? We allow three days for an 18-hour trip.
But the no-trucks status of those stretches of road demonstrate why the federal government is unlikely to pour money into additional lanes of Route 219.
The trucks just won’t come. Neither will the shippers, or the economic boom.
Instead, a four-lane, but not Interstate, Route 219 would languish in underused luxury, much like the mile-long $35 million or so recently built connector between Interstate 80 and the DuBois/Jefferson County Airport near Reynoldsville a dozen miles west of DuBois.
We can wish all we want.
But “If you build it, they will come” is fiction, suitable for smarmy imaginative movies like “Field of Dreams,” not realistic highway planning that costs hundreds of millions of dollars.
Travel along those old but still-nice roads that were improved in the 1950s and 1960s, while the Interstate system was still a-borning. In and around crowded cities, they fill up, because almost all cities are at gridlock in rush-hour traffic conditions.
But along small towns such as ours, the pavement sits untouched by rubber for miles at a stretch, overwhelmingly used by passenger cars or pickups, not trucks hauling goods that come from manufactories.
It is time for our area to turn its hopes away from the 20th Century myopia of “highways bring wealth.” With self-driving vehicles, high-speed railroads and even drone delivery looming, we need to look ahead, and lay to rest those long-favored dreams of highway-based boom times.
Drive those roads yourself. You will see.
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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com