Philly suburbs planning for pope-related congestion

Officials are projecting one to two million people will turn out for Pope Francis’ visit and papal mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia this September.

In the city, agencies prepping for security threats and are even planning to erect an eight foot tall fence around a significant portion of Center City, but in the surrounding counties the biggest logistical concern is what to do with cars. Lots of cars.

In order to transport crowds efficiently, SEPTA has announced it will restrict its service from 282 to only 31 stations during that time. Representatives from SEPTA said they are expecting 150,000 people to use the handful of outlying Regional Rail stations that will be open each day of the pope’s visit. That means a lot of people will be trying to park or drive to designated transit stations.

Those stations will run express service into Center City. Regional Rail tickets for the weekend will cost $10 and must be purchased in advance.  Monthly passes will not be accepted that weekend.

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Mario Civera, Delaware County Council chairman, said that could turn entire suburbs housing these stations, like Upper Darby and Paoli, into “parking lots outside the city.”

He and SEPTA “strongly encourage” riders to get dropped off at a SEPTA station instead of parking, and plan on walking long distances to get to and from transit.

Levittown Now reports Tullytown in Bucks County is expecting 3,500 vehicles to flood the borough of only 1,900 in order to use the train station.

In Chester County, Director of Emergency Services Bobby Kagel said his main concern traffic congestion and making sure emergency vehicles will still be able to circulate on busy roadways. He plans to set up “comfort stations” along stretches of highway likely to be backed up, which will be able to provide idling drivers with water and other amenities.

“My biggest tip is to allow plenty of extra time in your travels,” said Kagel.

Officials from surrounding counties are also coordinating public health surveillance – the work of tracking a public health outbreak,  as well as emergency response systems for the festivities.

The World Meeting of Families, an international Catholic conference, runs from September 22 to 25. Pope Francis will spend September 26 and 27 in the Philadelphia area, including a visit to St. Charles Borromeo seminary in Wynnewood, Pa, in addition to stops in New York City and Washington, D.C.

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