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On Friday, March 17, SEPTA announced the official "pause" of design on the King of Prussia rail project, one of many initiatives laid out in the SEPTA Forward vision.
The decision to pause the King of Prussia rail project was difficult, but necessary. It cannot be the end of the line for new transit investment for southeastern Pennsylvania. Transit Forward Philadelphia is most eager to ensure that this recent decision only leads to better projects for our region moving forward.
The pause will free up $340 million for projects like replacement of our inaccessible trolleys and aging Market-Frankford Line cars, and ADA improvements to subway and regional rail stations. But there are many more SEPTA assets and services that still need funding. For a region with our strong foundation of public transit, we must use this moment to develop a meaningful vision for new projects to serve a city growing after decades of decline.
SEPTA’s announcement arrives after the project failed to receive critical funding as part of the federal government's New Starts granting cycle for the year, but before the execution of SEPTA's approved design contract for the rail line.
Many had rightful concerns about KOP rail's ballooning costs (up over 50% since planning began), low ridership projections (~10k per day), and the narrow makeup of its support. But the cancellation of any transit project is nothing to celebrate, as it represents a failed vision for public infrastructure and lost jobs for project planning. And it doesn't inherently mean that SEPTA can or will immediately move to other capital projects, especially at a time when the system is in great need of vision, public momentum, and most importantly, funding.
We call upon SEPTA to use this moment as a time to double down on a vision for an expansive, connected, multimodal public transportation system across southeastern Pennsylvania.
TRANSIT FORWARD PHILADELPHIA'S GOALS
To avoid future project delays from federal funding, SEPTA first needs to be able to raise money for transit locally. Transit Forward Philadelphia is part of the Transit for All PA coalition, and is committed to their platform of new, progressive revenue dedicated to public transportation from the state government. Additionally, TFP believes that local governments must be allowed by the Commonwealth to raise their own supplemental revenue for specific service improvements or expansions. With the latter, SEPTA will be able to qualify for new pools of federal funding for transit, which we currently cannot access due to our lack of "local matching" funds.
Projects must serve a broader population, and prioritize those most dependent on transit. We are interested in local proposals to serve dense areas that feed ridership across the system, while not ignoring specific suburban and rural transit connections that get people to jobs, resources, and community. And as always, riders must be at the table for all projects, not just developers and business groups.
New transit investments will need to be pitched strongly, and built in collaboration. The pause of King of Prussia Rail does not need to be a dead-end, but instead can offer a new opportunity for public transportation.