DRPA rail plans delayed by funding shortfall

Posted: August 31, 2010

State funding has been held up for a proposed commuter rail line between Glassboro and Camden, victim of a troubled Transportation Trust Fund and a tough economy.

Then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine promised last year to provide $500 million to the Delaware River Port Authority for the $1.5 billion, 18-mile rail line. The money was to come from the Transportation Trust Fund, which is funded with gas-tax revenues and borrowed money.

The DRPA was counting on up to $9 million of that aid to pay for an environmental impact statement that is required before work can proceed on the rail line.

The environmental study money, to be provided by NJ Transit, has not been forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the DRPA is holding about $427,000 in bills submitted by engineering consultant STV Inc. for the environmental work, which has slowed dramatically.

NJ Transit "notified DRPA in April that funding for the [environmental impact statement] work is not available at this time," said NJ Transit spokeswoman Lynn Bowersox.

She said NJ Transit remained "committed to the project and will reimburse DRPA as soon as funds are available."

DRPA hopes to secure a $750,000 letter of authorization from NJ Transit to allow it to pay for the first phase of the environmental work, chief executive John Matheussen said Monday.

The environmental impact statement will take about two years to prepare, the DRPA said in July 2009 when it awarded a no-bid, $8.9 million contract to STV for the work.

The environmental contract was added to STV's earlier $1.5 million contract to assess alternative route possibilities for the rail line.

After objections from the Christie administration, the contract was changed this year to a $750,000 award, with the rest of the environmental work being put to competitive bid.

The work "has been in kind of a lull ... but it will get going soon," Matheussen said Monday. He said the financing difficulties and work slowdown might not affect the two-year timetable for completing the work.

Bowersox said NJ Transit's new executive director, James Weinstein, "wanted to undertake a review of both operating and capital project budgets based on unprecedented economic challenges for the agency.

"We are confident that TTF funding will be available and we will proceed with the agreement in due course."

The Transportation Trust Fund is about $11.6 billion in debt and is projected to run out of money for highway and mass-transit work by June 30.

Christie said last week he expected to announce in the third week of September a plan to replenish the trust fund. He has said he will not raise taxes or tolls to provide the additional money.

Christie's administration says it supports the proposed light-rail line, though it may not honor the $500 million funding promise made by Corzine.

The proposed light-rail line would run 18 miles alongside an existing Conrail freight line through Glassboro, Pitman, Mantua, Wenonah, Woodbury, Deptford, West Deptford, Westville, Bellmawr, Brooklawn, Gloucester City, and Camden.

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 of the line, from Camden to Woodbury, could be operational in about five years if financing is available, DRPA officials have said.


Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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