DRPA Dispatch: Johnny Doc laments PA-NJ imbalance; BFB gets plans for the pope and a fence but not a pope fence

John Dougherty Jr., business manager for IBEW Local 98, is a colorful guy and a Philly guy. 

Dougherty, better known as Johnny Doc, occasional sits in on the DRPA board meetings for Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

Dougherty usually talks a bit more than some of the other commissioners, but at Wednesday meeting at the Philadelphia Convention Center, Dougherty got into it a bit, pushing loudly for movement on the reopening of the Franklin Square station and the balance of DRPA and PATCO employees between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“I want to make sure that the distribution is fair between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey.”

Doughtery was concerned that Franklin Square’s reopening wasn’t getting the level of board scrutiny it should. It was Dougherty who made the recommendation at the December board meeting to examine reopening the so-called “ghost station,” which has sat unused since 1979.

That led to a new feasibility study–really, an update of studies conducted in in 2003 and 2009—showing that reopening the station would result in an overall decrease in PATCO ridership. Adding the stop would slow down services about a minute per end-to-end trip. While that seems small, over the course of the day it could result in an entire daily trip being lost.

Given the nearby location of a station at 8th and Market and the lack of major employers or residences near Franklin Square, which is surrounded by highways on two sides and cultural institutions and government buildings on its other sides, very few new riders would be expected to use the new station.

DRPA Chief Engineer Mike Veneuto reported that operating a re-opened Franklin Square station would cost about $900,000 a year. The infrastructure improvements to reopen the station would cost a bit over $26 million. DRPA has applied for a federal TIGER grant for $26 million for the project, and expects to learn the grant application’s fate in October.

Franklin Square wasn’t the only pet peeve Johnny Doc pushed on Wednesday. Dougherty once again noted the large disparity in where DRPA and PATCO employees reside. The bi-state authority currently employs 408 New Jersey residents, 148 Pennsylvania residents and 12 Delaware residents, and its PATCO subdivision employs 253 New Jersians, 47 Pennsylvanians, 2 Delawareans and 1 New Yorker with one heck of a commute.

Dougherty last made a fuss about the employment disparity back in December, during a meeting that coincidentally was also held at the Convention Center in Philadelphia. Back then, DRPA had 398 employees from New Jersey, 146 from Pennsylvania and 12 from Delaware, and PATCO had 256, 44 and 2 respectively.  Combining DRPA and PATCO seven more New Jersey employees and five new Pennsylvania employees have been hired since December.

When DRPA CEO John Hanson noted that Johnny Doc had consistently discussed these issues, Dougherty retorted: “Now I’m in Pennsylvania saying it. Usually, I’m in New Jersey!” The man certainly knows how to play to a home crowd.

Then again, it might not be just a matter of provincial pride for the Local 98 chief. In December, DRPA had 20 IBEW employees, 15 from NJ and 5 from PA. Now: 22 in the electricians union, but only three are from Pennsylvania; 18 are New Jersey residents, likely making them members of the Local 351 hall, and one from Delaware most likely in the Local 313.

OH, BEN FRANKLIN BRIDGE, YOU SO CRET!

Like its publisher namesake, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge seems to know how to make headlines. The upcoming papal visit will see the Ben Franklin closed to non-emergency vehicular traffic, a move that initially freaked out some folks who couldn’t countenance not driving under those Paul Phillipe Cret-designed towers.

The Ben Franklin won’t just be a walkway that weekend, though. The space underneath the bridge will be used as a staging area for security and first responder personnel working the papal visit weekend. The DRPA board approved a request from the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management to use the space that usually sits unused except for a handful of DRPA trucks.

The DRPA also allows parking there occasionally for special events: parishioners of nearby churches may park at Christmas and Easter, for example.

The occasional use of this large space begs the question of why it isn’t developed into a more productive use, or even used regularly as a public parking lot. In the past, DRPA officials cited homeland security concerns for preventing regular access to the area underneath the bridge.

But more productive use of the area doesn’t seem to be on the DRPA’s radar, as the board also approved the construction of a new fence there. The new fence will cost $173,000 and the work will be performed by South Camden Iron Works of Mickleton, NJ.  

The BFB will also see some milling and resurfacing on the Camden approach starting in October. The work will cost $708,000 and will be performed by the low bidder, A.E. Stone, Inc. of Egg Harbor Township. The bridge was last resurfaced in 2004 and similar touch-up repairs were performed in 2009 and 2010. A full resurfacing is currently planned for 2018. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.