Arnie.030316

If there’s one constant that divides people politically, it’s the use of tax dollars by government. If you’re of the opinion that using tax dollars to build infrastructure or to encourage economic development, you’re likely to call it “investment.” If you feel the government should not be so involved in infrastructure and economic growth, you’d probably call it “spending.”

In Philadelphia and the suburbs, there are two proposals worth looking at – ambitious (or foolhardy?) government investment plans that could fundamentally change the region.

The first is a proposal by SEPTA to build a high speed, elevated rail line between Center City Philadelphia and King of Prussia. The project is expected to cost $1.1 billion, some of which SEPTA hopes will be funded by federal transportation grants. The benefits, SEPTA say include somewhere between $540 million to $946 million in elevated real estate value and the creation of 1,000 or more jobs annually. The agency also believes the rail line could save local commuters 2.1 million hours of drive time by getting them off of the I-76 corridor.

While the plan is probably exciting for anyone who is stuck in a car on the Conshohocken Curve every day, there are definitely people opposed to the plan. A petition has been circulating in Upper Dublin Township to allow residents the opportunity to vote on the plan. A first public meeting will take place on March 7 at the Valley Forge Radisson.

Locally, a similarly ambitious project has just been proposed by Mayor Jim Kenney, who wants to spend $500 million on the city’s recreation centers and libraries. He plans to raise $300 million in bonds (borrowing) and hopes to get the rest in federal and state grants.

“When we have a football league in South Philadelphia where we have suburban people come into our communities and look at what our kids have to play with, and then our kids go out to the suburbs and play in pristinely manicured fields, it makes us feel like second-class citizens, and we’re not,” he told Plan Philly.

The issue will be – particularly for Kenney’s plan – can the public afford it? The city’s precarious financial position – its struggling schools, high pension commitments and labor contracts – are well documented. While it’s likely a citywide vote to approve the bonds would pass, the question is will it hurt the city in years to come?

Both projects, however, represent remarkable investments that very likely would improve the quality of life for many people in the region.

A public link to King of Prussia, which between its mall and industrial park constitutes a huge and growing source of employment, will make that region’s growth even easier.

Much needed repairs to the city’s many rec centers and public libraries, which provide everything from LEGO building clubs to low-cost dance classes and sports to the city’s children, would ensure those services can not only continue but thrive.

The plans may be pricey, but the good is too hard to ignore.

— Pete Mazzaccaro

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  • Poisson Volant

    Fact check: the line is in Upper Merion, not Upper Dublin.

    I’ve spent a lot of time examining the concerns raised by the extension’s opponents. While funding is a very serious issue, many of the other objections are in my opinion misplaced, unfounded, or even deliberately misleading. First, claims about noise conflate the NHSL with larger, more-intrusive heavy rail operations like the Regional Rail system or Frankford El. By contrast the NHSL is a quasi light-rail service running only one or two cars at a time. Those cars are inherently much quieter than their heavy-rail counterparts; moreover the extension will be constructed using modern noise-suppression methods like padding under the rails and barriers along the right of way. Second, the fears of increased crime are belied by two facts: much of the extension’s expected ridership will be drawn from the bus routes that already are serving the community, and more importantly the NHSL has served upmarket towns like Radnor, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, etc. for over a century with no evidence that it contributes to crime. In short, the line isn’t a new operating model nor is it an untried technology – it has over 100 years of successful operation to build on.

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