A Market Street light-rail line also would run from City Hall to the waterfront line. The waterfront trolleys could be running by 2016 if federal funding is available, DRPA officials said.
The contract approved yesterday by the DRPA operations and maintenance committee would allow the agency to pay up to $6.5 million to Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm that earlier was awarded a $750,000 contract to evaluate route proposals for the line.
Robert Box, general manager of the PATCO rail line, said it was beneficial to advance the environmental study and preliminary engineering as quickly as possible to seek federal funding.
"We've built a lot of momentum and a lot of support," Box said, "and it is important to keep this moving."
DRPA Chairman John Estey said federal money was crucial: "We can't fund this unless there's federal money."
On the other side of the river, DRPA officials are moving forward with plans for a $1.5 billion, 18-mile light-rail line between Camden and Glassboro.
Despite concerns about the project expressed last month by Gov. Christie's transition team, DRPA Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash said yesterday that he was confident that Christie would support the project.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine had promised $500 million for the project from the state Transportation Trust Fund, which is on the verge of running out of money.
"There's no indication they're retracting the money," said Nash, who added that he had spoken recently with Christie's transportation officials. "Our job is to explain the benefits, and I'm confident the governor will see the benefits" in job creation and transportation.
Nash compared the South Jersey project to the rail tunnel being built under the Hudson River between North Jersey and New York City.
The South Jersey project is proposed to run alongside a Conrail freight line and also serve Pitman, Mantua, Wenonah, Woodbury, Deptford, West Deptford, Westville, Bellmawr, Brooklawn, and Gloucester City.
The line would connect to PATCO and River Line trains at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden, where passengers could catch trains to Philadelphia or Trenton.
The first leg, between Camden and Woodbury, could be operational in six years.
In July, the DRPA awarded a $9 million contract to STV Inc. to perform an environmental-impact study and preliminary design work for the South Jersey line. The money was provided by NJ Transit.
Without substantial federal aid, the most likely source of money to build the rail lines would be higher bridge tolls. Auto tolls are scheduled to rise $1, to $5, on July 1, 2011. That revenue is committed to paying off existing debt and for scheduled maintenance and repair projects.
Also yesterday, DRPA Chief Executive John J. Matheussen said the recent snowstorms had cost the bistate agency more than $4 million in extra expenses and lost revenue.
Reduced traffic on the agency's four Delaware River toll bridges and fewer riders on the PATCO trains resulted in $2.5 million less revenue. Snow removal and repairs to snow-damaged equipment, Matheussen said, meant $1.5 million in extra costs.
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587
Plans for rail line on Phila. waterfront advance with contract approval. B6.