The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) recently released its Station Area Planning for the Norristown High Speed Line Extension to King of Prussia. Andrew Svekla, Associate Manager, Office of Smart Growth at DVRPC spoke to us about the potential station locations, recommendations made and his thoughts on the project benefits.
Andrew - your report studies something very important to the neighbors of the King of Prussia rail project - where the stations are planned for Upper Merion Township. How many stations are currently planned? Could you give us some idea of how these locations were chosen? What were some of the criteria?
The route that was selected as the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) was referred to the PECO/Pennsylvania Turnpike/First Avenue Alternative. This elevated alignment branches off of the existing Norristown High Speed Line between the DeKalb Street and Hughes Park stations and extends west along a PECO right-of-way before traveling along the north side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. After crossing over the Turnpike and Route 202/DeKalb Pike, the proposed alignment travels north of the King of Prussia Mall and crosses the Turnpike again before traveling west along First Avenue. The LPA includes five stations in King of Prussia: one at Henderson Road and Saulin Boulevard, two on the north side of the King of Prussia Mall, and two in Moore Park King of Prussia (the area formerly known as the King of Prussia Business Park).
During the screening process, all of the alignments being considered were evaluated based on a number of considerations, including the feasibility of construction, ridership expectations, the extent of environmental impacts, and potential for economic development. Ultimately, the LPA was selected because it was viewed as the alternative that best achieved the purpose of the project while avoiding or minimizing impacts on the natural and built environment when compared to the other alternatives.
The locations will afford new development opportunities to the properties around the stations. As a planner, what are the most important recommendations that you make in your report (to both Upper Merion Township and the project designers) to maximize the benefit of the rail project for all stakeholders in the King of Prussia area?
Our study uses the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) and the proposed station locations as a jumping off point. Throughout our planning process, we have tried to emphasize the fact that transit works best in areas where walking and biking are not only safe and convenient, but also interesting and pleasant. Accordingly, our report identifies dozens of physical infrastructure improvements, such as new sidewalks, intersection treatments, and multi-use trails, that can make walking and biking to transit easier and more comfortable. These improvements can benefit all members of the King of Prussia Community, even those that do not plan to use KOP Rail. For example, everyone benefits from streets that are safer and easier to cross and from investments that make it easier for people to walk or bike in their daily life.
We also expect that the addition of rail service will make King of Prussia even more attractive for new development than it already is. Our report includes recommendations designed to help King of Prussia stakeholders encourage development that supports transit and capitalizes on placemaking opportunities. By fostering land uses and development patterns that promote transit ridership, the Township can help create vibrant neighborhoods around the King of Prussia Rail stations and accommodate future growth that preserves the character of existing residential neighborhoods and mitigates the impact of growth on existing congestion.
This project has been studied and the economic benefits (job creation, property values, increased productivity) have been documented. What would you say to those folks who feel that the $1.5B price tag is too much to pay for 4-mile extension?
There is no doubt that infrastructure projects of this nature are expensive and time consuming. However, from a regional perspective, the King of Prussia Rail project has the potential to be one of the most transformative investments we can make. While it is tempting to analyze this project in terms of its cost per mile, the true value of the investment comes from creating a high-quality transit connection between Greater Philadelphia’s three largest job centers (Center City, University City, and King of Prussia).
The King of Prussia Rail will obviously offer a shorter, more reliable commute for those already traveling to and from King of Prussia by transit. Analysis included in the DEIS attempts to quantify some of the specific travel time, construction, economic development, and congestion-related benefits that can be derived from the project. For example, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia estimates that King of Prussia Rail would generate $1.1 to 1.3 billion in total construction spending in the region and save drivers and current bus riders between 1.8 and 2.3 million hours a year in traffic time.
As a regional planner, I’m also excited by the opportunity this project presents to create more walkable communities in our suburbs. A number of interconnected demographic and social trends appear to be contributing to a growing demand for walkable environments where individuals can lead less car-dependent lifestyles. It is this demand that has helped to fuel the success of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods in and around Center City Philadelphia over the last decade. However, as a region, we lag other metropolitan areas in terms of the number of walkable urban areas that can be found outside of our central city. While it may be difficult to quantify, I believe that investing in and around our network of transit infrastructure is one of the best ways that our region can attract the next generation of residents and businesses and remain competitive.
You can find the full study here: https://www.dvrpc.org/Reports/17023.pdf