A Forward-Looking Plan for Rail in Western Montco

May 7 marks National Train Day, but you are forgiven if you can’t take the train. I hope someday soon people from Pottstown, Royersford and Limerick can take SEPTA to their jobs in Philadelphia.

That vision of a daily commute without the Route 422 traffic jam was one of the reasons I attended a conference in March sponsored by the National Association of Railroad Passengers. We heard from various speakers about the importance of mass transit to our economy and environment.

Here in western Montgomery County, transportation planners have long floated the idea of extending the Norristown/Manayunk SEPTA line to Pottstown and Reading as a way to alleviate highway congestion. Limerick’s population exploded by 34 percent between 2000 and 2010 — the second-largest increase in the county — according to the Montgomery County Planning Commission. Perkiomen Township grew 29 percent, while Trappe, Royersford and Lower Pottsgrove all experienced population increases of more than 7 percent.

And despite record demand for tickets onboard Amtrak and SEPTA, we were told the money was not there for this project.

The Associated Press recently reported that a growing portion of PennDOT’s highway budget is funding Pennsylvania State Police operations, not fixing a backlog of deficient roadways and bridges (or subsidizing transit).

State police operations need a dedicated, regular source of funding. That would free up PennDOT funds for full use to shore up our state’s deteriorating infrastructure — work that is urgently needed.

Forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. ASCE gave the nation a D+ grade in 2013, the most recent report card, for overall infrastructure health.

Even worse, Pennsylvania still ranks No. 2 in the nation for structurally-deficient bridges (American Road and Transportation Builders Association, 2015).

Investment in passenger rail along Route 422 and the focused spending of highway revenue on highway projects seem like good bets in the 146th District. Most of the infrastructure for the “R6” extension already exists, but capital is needed for stations and other upgrades.

Where can the money come from?

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation announced that $500 million in TIGER grants will be made available in 2016. These grants fund capital investments in transportation infrastructure in both rural and urban areas. Since 2009, $4.6 billion has been awarded to 381 projects, according to DOT.

  • Public-private partnerships offer another avenue to share responsibility between government and businesses. U.S. DOT maintains the Build America Transportation Investment Center, which “serves as the single point of contact and coordination for states, municipalities and project sponsors looking to utilize federal transportation expertise, apply for federal transportation credit programs and explore ways to access private capital in public private partnerships.”

  • Additionally, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a federal interagency initiative, lists the expansion of transportation choices as one of its priorities. “[To develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.”

The PSC is a collaboration between the Department of Transportation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

  • FAST Act grants (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) are another example. This is just a sampling of the opportunities out there. We need to roll up our sleeves, get creative and form new partnerships to make this train project a reality.

If elected as your state representative in November, I will work hard to secure federal grants and our fair share of Pennsylvania transportation dollars (not tolls) to make this rail project a reality.

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