Hearings seek input for new PATCO lines An extension to Glassboro or along Route 42 is one possibility.

Posted: February 22, 2005

A decade ago, public opposition killed a plan to bring mass transit to Gloucester County. Now officials at the Delaware River Port Authority are pushing the idea again.

This time, they want to make sure they get as many people as they can on board.

In public hearings this week and next, the port authority will present three options for extending its PATCO High-Speed Line deep into fast-growing South Jersey. It now connects Philadelphia to Camden County.

The bistate agency also will explain two alternative plans to improve PATCO connections to SEPTA in Philadelphia and open up that city's waterfront.

"We want to get input from the public," the authority's chief, John Matheussen, said yesterday. "This is not just show and tell. It's also listen and learn."

Comments at the hearings will be used to help select preferred alignments for routes on both sides of the river, Matheussen said. The Federal Transit Administration, which decides which transit projects nationwide get coveted funding, also will weigh in on projects that together could cost more than $3 billion.

If funding is secured and planning goes smoothly, one or both of the lines could be a reality in seven or eight years, Matheussen said.

In South Jersey, officials have narrowed to three the possible routes for a rail system that would extend from Camden to ease growing congestion to the south.

The first would run along the median of Route 55 to Glassboro and cost $1.4 billion. The second would follow existing rail rights-of-way through old town centers to Glassboro, at a cost of $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion. Both routes could later be extended south to Millville in Cumberland County.

The third proposal, estimated to cost $1.5 billion, would follow Route 42 and the Atlantic City Expressway into Winslow Township.

Whatever the route, port authority officials said the system would be much like PATCO, which is elevated or underground as it passes through towns. They have good reason for keeping that system: In the 1990s, communities in Gloucester County rejected a light-rail line, largely because of fears about safety at grade crossings. The line went to Burlington County, in the form of NJ Transit's Camden-to-Trenton River Line.

In Philadelphia, port authority officials are studying reopening Franklin Square Station, on the existing PATCO line in Old City, and running a new trolley service from there to a line along the waterfront.

The waterfront line, either a trolley or light-rail system, would run along Columbus Boulevard north to Spring Garden Street, where passengers could connect to SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line. The southern terminus would be the Pier 70 Shopping Plaza, home to Wal-Mart and Home Depot, near Tasker Street. In another scenario, SEPTA's subway-surface line would be extended east under Market Street to Columbus Boulevard, where it would connect to a waterfront line.

Under both proposals, which would cost an estimated $700 million to $1 billion each, the waterfront line could eventually be extended to the Navy Pier.

Together, the South Jersey and Philadelphia lines would cost far more than any one area agency could afford. Federal money, which could cover as much as 60 percent of the cost, is key to getting either built. So is agency cooperation, which is why port authority officials are working with NJ Transit, SEPTA and other agencies to get widespread support.

Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 856-779-3810 or jmoroz@phillynews.com.

Hearings Schedule

All public hearings will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Today: Center Court at Cumberland Mall, 3849 S. Delsea Dr., Vineland, N.J.

Tomorrow: Friends Meeting House, 320 Arch St., Philadelphia.

Thursday: Monroe Township Municipal Building, 125 Virginia Ave., Williamstown.

Next Tuesday: Rowan University Student Center Ballroom, 201 Mullica Hill Rd., Glassboro.

March 3: Deptford Township Municipal Building, 1011 Cooper St., Deptford.

For more information on the transit proposals or to submit comments online, visit www.drpa.org.

DRPA Proposals for New Philadelphia and South Jersey Service

The Delaware River Port Authority is studying three possible alignments that would link Gloucester County with existing PATCO service in Camden:

1. The line would run along old railway rights-of-way through Westville, West Deptford, Woodbury, Wenonah, Mantua, Pitman and Glassboro. It could be extended later to Millville in Cumberland County.

2. The line would run down the median of Route 55 through Deptford, Washington Township, Mantua Township, Harrison Township and Glassboro. It could be extended to Millville in Cumberland County.

3. The line would follow the path of Route 42 through Gloucester, Washington, Monroe and Winslow Townships.

4. Proposals for the city include a new trolley or light-rail line on Columbus Boulevard. It could connect with a new service running from a reopened Franklin Square Station or an extension of the SEPTA subway-surface line that would run under Market Street.

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