We've received feedback on this story about the planned expansion of Route 219 in Cattaraugus County that had us take another look (originally posted on January 20, 2011). We wanted to share the new details with you.
Our story suggested that earmarks were a key part of the holdup of Route 219 construction. That emphasis was misplaced.
The project is known regionally as a longtime beneficiary of earmark funds (and it's commonly referred to that way in regional media reports). But that turns out to be a little overblown. In following up with the state Department of Transportation, we learned that the bulk of the money for the project comes from the Federal Highway Administration's state matching fund (it's an 80-20 split, of FHA funds to NYS DOT funds). NYS DOT wasn't able to come up with exact figures for how much of the road has been earmark-funded, but did tell us that the last section of construction, completed in November 2010, got just under 10 percent of its funding from multiple earmarks.
Two points are outstanding for Rt. 219 in the short term. The first is the need to do a comprehensive environmental impact study (EIS) for the second, un-built half of the expansion in western New York. The second point is that that study has not been funded, because the state DOT has put a hold on major infrastructure projects like 219, because of a lack of confidence in the ability to fund the total project in the current economic climate.
We bring this up because after our story aired, one of our sources, Meg Lauerman with Continential 1, contacted us to clarify that her project isn't looking for an earmark for the aforementioned EIS:
The Route 219 construction was not an earmark, it was funded through the NYSDOT budget. As I mentioned in the interview, my organization, Continental 1, does receive earmarked funding- a 1.5 M multi-year FHWA grant.
Continental 1 is a not-for-profit organization. None of these funds went towards construction.
We have updated the text of our story slightly to reflect these changes. However, Congressman Tom Reed's explanation - that he plans to advocate for the project in committee - still appears to be an effort to earmark funds according to our expert, and we stick by our read of his remarks.