Source, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jerry Sweeney, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh and John Fry
Imagine a rail line that connects King of Prussia – the largest employment center in suburban Philadelphia– to Philadelphia’s Center City and University City neighborhoods. It would allow commuters to bypass the daily gridlock on I-76, one of the most highly congested roadways in the country, and make the commute between the King of Prussia Mall and City Hall in less than 45 minutes via an express train. It would introduce a reliable transit service to improve the mobility, accessibility and connectivity of all travelers – residents, commuters, shoppers, students and visitors alike – across the Greater Philadelphia region.
Only it’s not just an idea, it’s a very real vision that will be made possible in the near future via the King of Prussia Rail (KOP Rail) Project – a planned extension of SEPTA’s existing Norristown High Speed Line, which already provides service between Norristown and 69th Street transportation centers. Together, the King of Prussia Rail Coalition, made up of key regional leaders in business, education, health care, transportation and labor, is working diligently to support SEPTA’s vision.
Recognizing the changing needs of the growing community around us – particularly seniors, people with disabilities, millennials and students – we believe that the KOP Rail Project will provide convenient access to all of the phenomenal medical centers, educational institutions, shopping, dining and entertainment that the Philadelphia region has to offer, while cutting down on traffic congestion and parking needs. And the benefit doesn’t stop there; we anticipate that new public rail service will increase local home values and commercial real estate – leading to more local tax revenues for the local Montgomery County and Upper Merion Township coffers. The project will also help to support Upper Merion’s vibrant and growing business community, which currently supports 60,000 jobs.
As with any project of this size and scope, funding is a challenge but not a deterrent. With an estimated capital cost of $1.2 billion, the scope of the KOP Rail Project is similar to other new rail projects around the country in terms of cost per mile. Typically, rail project construction is funded through a combination of federal, state and other government jurisdictions, as well as public-private funding options. Through similar funding mechanisms, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is investing $5.5 billion in their Silver Line Extension and the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) invested more than $1 billion in its Blue Line Extension. While the KOP Rail Project is still in the planning phase, we will continue to work closely with SEPTA and partner organizations, as well as state and federal governments, to identify funding sources.
Further, investing in projects like KOP Rail just makes good economic sense, and are proven to deliver a strong return on investment. Every $1 invested in public transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns, and every $1 billion invested supports and creates more than 50,000 jobs. Other peer cities have been bold in developing first class transit rail, even in the face of economic challenges—and have demonstrated that the initial investment was worth it.
Investments like the King of Prussia Rail Project are necessary for the region to maintain and grow its competitive advantage. We have the interest and resources to solve this funding challenge together and see this project through to completion. In the end, it will serve as an economic win for the entire Philadelphia region.
Jerry Sweeney is President and CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, and serves in this capacity as Chair of the King of Prussia Rail Coalition. Dr. Valerie Arkoosh is Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. John Fry is President of Drexel University. www.koprailcoalition.com