Sweeney and State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) said the rail line would boost the towns along its route and ease traffic for Philadelphia-bound drivers on heavily traveled Routes 42 and 55.
The line's anchors would be Rowan and Rutgers-Camden, Norcross said.
Not long after the 9 a.m. DRPA meeting, he and Sweeney traveled about a half-mile to Rutgers-Camden, and spoke to the Rutgers University board of governors in favor of Gov. Christie's controversial plan to merge Rowan and the Camden campus under the Rowan banner.
Norcross' brother George E. Norcross III, the South Jersey Democratic Party power-broker who also is chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden, has been a driving force behind the proposed consolidation.
The $1.6 billion light-rail line would run alongside a Conrail freight line through Glassboro, Pitman, Mantua, Wenonah, Woodbury, Deptford, West Deptford, Westville, Bellmawr, Brooklawn, Gloucester City, and Camden.
It 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, the DRPA officials have said.
But that's a big if.
The DRPA has said it won't pay to build or operate the line, and NJ Transit has not committed to paying for it, either.
NJ Transit will pay for the environmental-impact study approved Wednesday, and the DRPA will oversee that work.
The study will be done by STV Inc., an engineering and architectural firm headquartered in Douglassville, Pa. It will take about two years.
STV was awarded a no-bid $8.9 million contract to do the study in July 2009. It did about $450,000 worth of work before the study was halted by the then-new Christie administration, which ordered the project put out for competitive bidding.
Louis Cappelli Jr., the Camden County freeholder director who chairs the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, endorsed the rail line as a way to ease the "horrific" traffic on Routes 42 and 55.
Susan Bass Levin, the former Cherry Hill mayor who is president of the Cooper Foundation, a tax-exempt organization that promotes Cooper Hospital, said the rail line would "link the two centers of academic activity" in South Jersey and "make our region stronger."
The only voice against the project Wednesday was Carol Rhodes of Barnsboro, a frequent critic of the DRPA and the rail line. She said neither the DRPA nor NJ Transit has the expertise to build or run the line.
" 'The blind leading the blind' comes to mind, but that would be an insult to the visually impaired," Rhodes said.
In other business, the board approved a plan to reduce the financial burden on the deeply indebted DRPA.
The plan calls for spending about $100 million to pay off high-interest debt, reduce costs associated with "interest-rate swap option" agreements, and reduce future costs for retired employees' health benefits.
The moves, along with an additional $50 million in debt reduction, are designed to help reduce the agency's financing costs as it prepares to borrow more money.
The DRPA must borrow about $300 million this year to fund its long-term capital budget for such things as bridge repairs and refurbished PATCO railcars. That will increase the DRPA's total debt to $1.45 billion from the current $1.3 billion, chief financial officer John Hanson said.
The DRPA board also moved to settle a simmering dispute with Philadelphia over a planned extension of Delaware Avenue in Bridesburg.
The board directed DRPA staff to negotiate the grant of an easement to the city to extend Delaware Avenue under the Betsy Ross Bridge. In exchange, the DRPA wants the city eventually to take a nearby roadway off its hands.
The city had balked at taking Hedley Street, which the DRPA acquired during construction of the bridge in the 1960's, in its current condition, since it is not built or paved to meet city codes. An upgrade would cost about $2 million.
The city wants to extend Delaware Avenue about one mile, from Lewis Street over Frankford Creek and under the Betsy Ross Bridge to Buckius Street.
The extension is part of the master plan for the development of the Delaware River waterfront and is designed to provide access to future development along the river.
The extension also would link to the planned North Delaware River Greenway trail system.
The decision by the DRPA board to grant the easement will allow the city to use an existing $15 million federal grant for the extension.
The city has agreed to take Hedley Street when the city begins the second phase of the Delaware Avenue extension project.
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.