Source, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jason Laughlin
SEPTA’s board is expected to approve a final route Thursday for the Norristown High-Speed Line extension to King of Prussia, transit agency officials said Wednesday.
The proposal diverts the railroad tracks away from a community that opposed an earlier design that had the line running nearly through residents’ backyards. The final plan, which shifts the tracks to the north side of I-276, away from the Valley Forge Homes development, represents a “huge victory,” said Dan Cowhey, a leader of opposition to the line through the No KOP Rail group.
“It is something that I think we all, in that particular neighborhood, are happier with,” he said Wednesday.
SEPTA altered an earlier proposal that planned tracks for the south side of the highway because of opposition from the community, said Liz Smith, director of strategic planning and partnerships at SEPTA and the project manager.
“It definitely felt like what we needed to do,” she said.
The King of Prussia line would be a spur with stops at Henderson Road, two at the King of Prussia Mall, and two in the King of Prussia business park. Businesses in King of Prussia, which support the plan, see it as a way to make working and shopping in the regional retail hub easier. The extension is predicted to add an average of 9,500 trips per weekday by 2040.
The project is expected to cost about $1.1 billion, and how SEPTA will find funding remains an open question. The transit agency won’t begin a serious bid for money until after a final environmental impact statement is complete, Smith said, likely by late 2019.
While the route shift addressed the most pressing concern from people in the community, many are still not pleased with the project, Cowhey said. The project is far more likely to benefit Upper Merion’s businesses than its residents, he said. It doesn’t have stops that are easy to access on foot for people living along the route, he said, and he anticipated the costs for sidewalks, walking bridges, and street redesigns could fall on the community.
“We think it’s going to be more of a burden in the long run to King of Prussia,” he said.
The vote Thursday means SEPTA has a final vision for a project that has been in the planning stages since 2012, but many details remain to be settled. There are rights-of-way to secure and land development approvals for the five stations, and possibly zoning approvals.
Most of the engineering work lies ahead, too, Smith said. Among the challenges is the ground in that area, which is heavy in limestone and prone to sinkholes. There are ways to build safely, Smith said, but geological testing will be required to determine the correct technique.