$1.1 billion shortfall for DVRPC’s transportation vision

The board of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission charted the course for transportation in Southeastern Pennsylvania for the next four years on Thursday.

The future isn’t pretty.

The board approved the region’s Transportation Improvement Program for fiscal years 2011 and 2014, but the state’s failure to toll Interstate 80 has caused a shortfall in funds.

The program, a list of projects that will receive federal dollars and which represents a short-term transportation vision for Philadelphia and the four suburban Pennsylvania counties, will receive $2.9 billion in projects over the next four years, substantially less than the $4 billion allocated previously.

“We don’t have enough funding in our region for our projects,” Elizabeth Schoonmaker, the DVRPC’s manager of capital programs, told the board.

TIP includes $1.6 billion for 368 highway projects and $1.3 billion for 29 transit projects. Of the highway money, about half is allocated for reconstruction of existing infrastructure, 17 percent is devoted to increasing road capacity and 10 percent is dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle projects.

Not all items listed with the program get built, but winning a place on the document, a 250-page tome, is a necessary hurdle that transportation projects have to jump. Projects still need to secure proper permits and win other approvals.

Though TIP received unanimous approval from the DVRPC Board, the commission received about 150 public comments on the program. Comments came from citizens like Aissia Richardson — a nonvoting representative of the DVRPC’s Regional Citizen’s Committee — who called on the board to delete the contentious Jenkintown-Wyncote parking garage from the document until further study can be done.

Richardson expressed concerns about plans to build a parking garage at 69th Street Terminal, saying it could lead some suburban transit riders to drive to and from 69th Street instead of taking transit to the terminal. She also questioned the value in proceeding with regional rail renovation projects at outlying stations like Secane and Levittown given the current funding situation, suggesting instead that SEPTA focus its money on the core of the system. 

Byron Comati, SEPTA’s director of strategic planning and analysis, said that the station renovation projects are proceeding because they have specific earmarks.

Many of the projects are being paid for with federal stimulus money, and Comati, who represented the transit authority at the meeting, said SEPTA wasn’t able to spend the money on other capital projects.

Richardson was joined by a coalition of suburban residents who oppose the garage and who are pushing for the extension of the R8 Fox Chase line to Newtown as a way of diverting traffic from the station to other parts of the system.

In a statement, the group called on SEPTA and the DVRPC to stop the Jenkintown and 69th Street garage projects until a more detailed analysis could be made.

Chiming in at the other end of the Jenkintown parking garage debate was the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers.

The advocacy group said in a statement submitted during the public comment period for the TIP proposal that parking garage projects throughout the system would encourage more ridership. It also praised the DVRPC for including more information on certain catch-all SEPTA capital projects, like the Systems Improvements Plan, but called on the commission to provide cost estimates of each component of these projects.

DVARP also expressed concern that some rail signal projects are being designed in an “overly cautious manner,” leading to slower trains.

The Planning Commission is putting off issuing a new TIP for the New Jersey counties in the region — Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Mercer — for another year. The Pennsylvania TIP is issued every other year, and the New Jersey TIP is usually issued each year.

A full copy of the TIP, including a list of all the projects on it, can be found here.

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