SEPTA studies high-speed rail extension to King of Prussia

Posted: July 18, 2013

Despite being "desperately underfunded," in one official's words, SEPTA is moving ahead with an environmental impact study to extend the Norristown High Speed Line to King of Prussia and Valley Forge.

Officials say the area is badly underserved, with the nearest Regional Rail stops more than two miles away. Six bus routes serve the area, with about 4,000 passengers a day, but they are subject to the same traffic headaches drivers face on the Schuylkill Expressway.

"If you don't plan, you never build," said Byron Comati, SEPTA's project director, who alluded to the agency's financial problems.

Planners have narrowed down the possible routes from 30 to 12, with three primary areas of focus.

One option is to run an elevated track from the Norristown Transit Center up Route 202. Another is to use Peco right of way south of Route 202, then continue up along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The third option would use the same Peco easement but continue past the turnpike and up North Gulph Road.

SEPTA unveiled the maps at a public "scoping" meeting Tuesday night. Public comments revealed a deep schism between the region's large and growing business community and some residents who resist further urbanization.

MORE: Q&A with SEPTA Project Director Byron Comati

The elevated track on Route 202, which in the area is DeKalb Pike, drew by far the most - and most impassioned - responses.

"The idea of running an El down 202 - two blocks from my house - is not appealing at all," said Debra McGill. She said she was most concerned with the aesthetics and maintaining the quiet neighborhoods beyond DeKalb.

"If we go 202, I literally can't picture what it would look like," said Ben Andersen of Phoenixville. "I simply cannot conceive in my mind of how it goes through there."

Douglas Diehl, founder of Tri-State Transit Center, a transit-advocacy group, said the 202 route appears to give "the most bang for the buck," with possible stops along Henderson Road and other locations in addition to the three primary targets: the King of Prussia mall, the office park north of the shopping center, and the Valley Forge Casino & Conference Center.

Several people referred to the Market-Frankford El and said they did not want anything like that in King of Prussia - the noise, the wide berth, the huge support structures, or the crime that they said happens under them.

"Most people who think of an elevated line think of the old El. They should think of it like the Disneyland monorail," Upper Merion Fire Marshal John Waters said.

MORE: Map of SEPTA's "Tier 1" alternatives for KOP Rail

Several residents expressed concern about a rail line bringing more "city people" into Upper Merion Township.

"This corporate business park - they're not going to use it," said John Baessler, who said he was grateful to see that SEPTA had eliminated a possible route near his home along the Norfolk Southern rail line.

Another woman, who would not give her name, put it more explicitly: "If somebody can't get to King of Prussia by car, they shouldn't be coming at all."

Others spoke in favor of the project.

"We have to do this project. There is no alternative. We only have so much land and we can only build so many roads," said Mike Santillo, a lifelong King of Prussia resident.

"I would suggest that nobody's bedroom is closer to a station than mine," said Mike Liebowitz of Matsonford Road. Nevertheless, he added, "I came out today to strongly endorse the project."

Ken Butera, a partner in a King of Prussia law firm, said he came on behalf of at least eight employees who would love to switch from their cars to a train.

In addition, he said, the area needs transit expansion. "It's been lacking for so long."

Public comment will be accepted until Aug. 14. Maps and contact information can be found at www.kingofprussiarail.com.


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @JS_Parks.

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