Getting on track

A plan for a light-rail system is in the works to connect Center City with the waterfront and may one day include stops at the Navy Yard and sports complex.

By Amanda L. Snyder
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 14, 2010

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This artist rendering depicts what Pier 70 may look like with the addition of a light rail in the median along Columbus Boulevard that is expected to provide access to the waterfront and various Pennsport stores.

Pennsport residents soon will have a direct link to Center City, as well as access along the riverfront, via a light rail system.

Officials said the $364 to $514 million project will stretch east of City Hall on Market Street to the Delaware River and span Girard Avenue to Pier 70, near Snyder Avenue, on Columbus Boulevard. Other local stops will include South, Christian and Reed streets.

“If things went well — extremely well — the project maybe can be completed in five to six years,” Port Authority Transit Corp.’s (PATCO) General Manager Robert A. Box said. “Then it’s anywhere beyond that depending on obstacles or challenges we may run into along the way.”

The rail line was narrowed down from numerous options through outreach meetings with parties such as SEPTA, PATCO, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and City officials, in addition to input from residents at open houses dating back to 2003. The system is expected to alleviate traffic along Columbus in preparation for future development of the area, Box said.

“It’s something that the DRPA has been involved with over the years in a number of efforts, trying to develop the waterfront,” Box said. “Every time we were involved and the effort failed, the bigger issue was parking and traffic.”

The plan initially was to have extended from SEPTA’s Subway-Surface Line, which ends at 13th and Juniper streets in Center City, on Market toward Columbus and over I-95. However, the line now will be an above-ground light rail on Market.

“We looked at a number of alternatives,” Box said. “Anything we looked at trying to continue any of the underground facilities turned into major engineering issues.”

Upon reaching the boulevard, the rail would travel north to the El’s Spring Garden Station and south to Pier 70. Service could expand to the Navy Yard and sports complex during a potential second phase.

Developers also are looking into a line that runs straight from Girard to Pier 70, he said.

“You could eliminate that one, but then if you want to travel the whole distance of the waterfront, you have to get off the north branch and travel on the south branch,” he said.

While transit may be a portion of Penn Praxis’ already-in-the-works 10 objective concept that includes creating a seven-mile hiking/walking/biking trail, guaranteeing access and managing traffic along the waterfront, how it is developed ultimately will determine if it accomplishes the location’s needs, Central Delaware Advocacy Group Chairman Steven Weixler said. The group has representatives from more than 15 civic associations that span the Delaware.

“We think it’s a very good idea that the waterfront is connected to public transit and we don’t want to oppose that,” he said. “We want it done thoughtfully and in consideration with the civic vision.”

Planning efforts are too early, he added, as Penn Praxis’ goals for access include continuing the street grid to the river and the light-rail project is looking at utilizing I-95 overpasses, which is contrary to the civic vision, and is something that will be addressed during the creation of the transit plan now under way.

“As far as any further planning, it’s premature until we can integrate in the master plan,” Weixler said of the concept for which The Delaware River Waterfront Corp. has selected a consulting team to begin developing.

The transit agencies have been developing their waterfront transit plan prior to the civic vision, but are working with the Corp. and the City. The overpasses are one aspect that will be discussed, Box said.

“We’ll try to make sure what we’re looking at is consistent with what they think needs to be done,” Box said.

The DRPA and PATCO’s 2005 “Southern New Jersey to Philadelphia Transit Study” aimed to improve the region’s travel options in Jersey, Market West and the Camden and Philadelphia’s waterfronts along the Delaware.

“It’s an area that we saw that really could use a rail-transit system to make the waterfront more viable and an asset as it is in other cities,” Box said of the local waterfront.

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