Saturday, February 21, 2009

MONTCO Planners - Charge tolls on Rt 422 to finance train service from Philly to Wyomissing

For at least the last 15 years, since the late 1990's, we have anticipated the restoration of train service in this area.

I urge anyone and everyone currently holding an elected or appointed position, as well as the public, to support this transit project including the toll concept. The feds apparently aren't able or won't underwrite the entire system without additional funding from tolls on Rt 422.

Like many others, I'm tired of waiting for train service to return.

Let's get this done!


Rail plan switches tracks

Saturday, February 21, 2009 2:00 AM EST

Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE — With monumental congestion a daily reality on Route 422, Montgomery County planners have worked to keep alive a plan for passenger rail service between Reading and Philadelphia. Their two-year study suggests paying for a future train line with a combination of government funding and toll revenues collected from Route 422 motorists.

At a news conference Friday, county Planning Commission Assistant Director Leo Bagley said the $2.2 billion Schuylkill Valley Metro Rail, which had been proposed 15 years ago, proved too expensive without significant federal money, so in 2007, region planners began studying alternatives.

The findings and recommendation of the two-year R-6 Norristown Line Service Extension Study were discussed at the event at One Montgomery Plaza in Norristown.

“This was a last gasp effort to do something with a commuter rail service to Reading,” Bagley said. “We looked at ways to scale it back.”

The transit study’s technical advisory group chose three alternatives for a proposed rail line along the 422 corridor through Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties.

The first calls for using existing R-6 electrified service from Norristown to a future station at Valley Forge only. A second alternative envisions diesel train service traveling from Norristown making stops at stations in Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Royersford, Pottstown, Monocacy, Reading and Wyomissing.

The third, described as the “Cadillac” version, would provide electrified rail service between Wyomissing and Phildelphia’s 30th Street Station, and has an estimated cost of $500,000, Bagley said.

The rail study also involved planners from Chester and Berks counties, business and economic development groups, Congressman Jim Gerlach, Sen. Arlen Specter, state Sen. John Rafferty, PennDOT, SEPTA, Berks Area Reading Transportation Authority (BARTA) and Northfolk Southern Railway, among others.

Considering the scarcity of government funding in recent years, the advisory group proposed bankrolling the rail system not only with $44 million of past federal “earmarks” and state Act 44 funds but also with tolls to be collected from commuters traveling on 422.

“If you can’t finance it, you can’t build it,” the Montgomery County planner said.

U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-6th Dist., and Sen. Arlen Specter were able to secure the government funding set aside over the past decade for the now-defunct Schuylkill Valley Metro plan that was to carry passengers between Philadelphia and Reading.

The ambitious 422 corridor proposal weighed three options for collecting highway tolls, including building tolled express lanes in the existing 422 median, tolling the planned Schuylkill River Bridge near Valley Forge National Historical Park or collecting tolls between Route 202 in King of Prussia and the Pottstown Bypass.

Reconstruction of the Schuylkill River Bridge, which is planned to begin as early as 2010, calls for three travel lanes in both directions.

Bagley said the proposed collection points would be “open road electronic tolling” similar to EZ Pass, rather than traditional tollbooths. The revenue would fund not only operating costs for rail service but also maintenance of the highway.

Tolls would be charged about 8 cents per mile, similar to the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s toll rate. A vehicle traveling the entire length of the 25-mile highway would pay about $2.

Officials at Friday’s event praised the 422-corridor initiative that depends less on government funding.

Judy Schwank, of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, would welcome train service to Philadelphia from Berks County, where she lives. Her organization, a land use policy group, promotes revitalization of Pennsylvania towns and reduction of sprawl.

Schwank works most of the week in Harrisburg, but twice a week she drives from her home in Fleetwood, in Berks County, to Center City. The trip, which often puts her on 422, takes more than two hours one way.

“I dread it,” she said.

Her alternative route is Route 176 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Schuylkill Expressway, she said.

The next step for the 422-corridor transit proposal is an 18-month feasibility study of the tolling concept.

As well, planners will meet with the public in hopes of gaining support for the plan during the next year-and-a-half.

“We know we are plowing new ground here,” Bagley said.

More information on the R-6 Norristown Line Service Extension Study and the upcoming tolling feasibility study can be found at, or by contacting Leo Bagley, the project manager, at 610-278-3746.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Additional information from Allentown's WFMZ.

A study released today on restoring passenger train service between Berks County and Philadelphia recommends a detailed study of charging a toll on Route 422 to generate the money needed not only to support the train line, but to make critical improvements to the highway.

Regardless of where motorists would enter or exit the Route 422 Expressway between Pottstown and King of Prussia, officials say tolls would be charged on a per-mile basis, similar to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The study assumes the toll would be $2, or eight cents per mile, for vehicles traveling the full length of the 25-mile expressway in either direction.

The study also advances three options for the train service, which last ran between Philadelphia and Berks County in 1981. One option would be to extend SEPTA's existing R-6 electrified train service from Norristown to Valley Forge. The second option would link up diesel service west of Norristown with the R-6 line in Norristown. And the third option would run an electrified line from Wyomissing in Berks County to Philadelphia.

"A commuter rail line has been discussed for many years as a proposed solution to the increasing traffic volumes on Route 422 in Berks and Montgomery counties, however, funding has always been one of the major roadblocks," said Judy Schwank, President and CEO of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania and a former Berks County commissioner. "This study addresses that difficult issue head-on by exploring possible funding mechanisms including public-private partnerships and tolling."

Seven new passenger rail stations are initially planned for the 44-mile extension of the R-6 line. They would be in Upper Merion Township, Phoenixville, Royersford, Pottstown, Amity Township, Reading, and Wyomissing. Officials say the rail line would provide an alternative to traveling on Route 422 and serve as a catalyst for development and redevelopment in well-established towns along the corridor.

The next step in project development is conducting a detailed feasibility study of tolling Route 422. That would include four components: traffic and revenue analysis of the highway; assessing the capital needs of the Route 422 and the R-6 Extension; public outreach and comment period; and development of an operating plan and cost estimate for R-6 service.

"This study shows that there is a way to address the highway and transit needs of the Route 422 corridor," said Leo Bagley, Assistant Director of Planning for Montgomery County. "The detailed feasibility study will tell us whether this is really a viable option and explore all the pros and cons of tolling so the elected officials can make an informed decision."

The study was undertaken after the federal government dropped plans for the $2.2-billion Schuylkill Valley Metro rail line. Officials say the R-6 study is an effort to explore lower-cost rail options and various innovative funding sources.

The study involved the coordination of several local and regional planning, business and economic development groups to identify new rail alternatives and potential funding for commuter service rail, including the Berks County Planning Commission, Norfolk Southern Railroad, SEPTA, PennDOT, and BARTA.