The Right Path for King of Prussia Rail
For the past many months, members of the public, SEPTA and a host of experts have scrutinized, discussed and evaluated how best to get passenger train service out to the booming region of the King of Prussia Mall and Valley Forge Business Park.
Now at last SEPTA and its planning partners have unveiled their best shot at an alignment. The plan: an extension of the Norristown High Speed Line that will not only get the train to the mall and business park but to King of Prussia neighborhoods as well.
However, an opposition group, “No KOP Rail,” has surfaced with a petition, and a presence on social media. At the same time, a “KOP Rail Coalition” has formed to counter these negative voices and extol the virtues of the new line and its benefits to businesses and residents alike.
Everyone’s needs are important. Inevitably, large infrastructure projects are bound to affect many people in varied ways. Some public opposition to expanded transportation infrastructure is nothing new in our region. Landmark projects like the Blue Route were the subject of fierce public debate, court battles and protracted studies to modify the design and get a better fit for the community. Sometimes this opposition is based on real impacts to property or to indirect community impacts like noise, traffic and visual change.
And there’s a fear-factor: I’m ok with things as they are, so why change? Yet while not everyone can benefit equally, the goal must be to bring a major benefit to all with the least distress to some. There lies the best chance to serve all.
Recently, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Econsult Solutions Inc. completed an economic analysis and quantified the benefits of the project to KOP and the region. These benefits include better mobility, new jobs, new development and some reduction in highway congestion on regional routes like the Schuylkill Expressway. But the opposition group seems to believe that this rail line is planned for the benefit primarily of big business, transforming a peaceful haven of suburban neighborhoods into an urban complex of congestion, blight and crime.
Resistance to change is understandable, and long-term resident’s concerns are important to factor into the decision, but King of Prussia and its mall and business park is already a busy place, still undergoing new commercial, residential and office development. The existence of this “edge city” with its diverse shopping and employment opportunities benefits every resident in Upper Merion Township and the region by countering the property tax burden, creating jobs, expanding public services and creating a unique destination for visitors from all over the globe. The addition of new rail service to KOP will balance the transportation system while offering more efficient and reliable access for commuters, residents and visitors.
Like it or not, King of Prussia is a direct result of decades of transportation investments allowing easy auto access from every direction. Now this regional highway network including I-76, I-276, US-202, US 422 is largely “built out”. With the exception of some fine-tuning, this network cannot, and should not be expanded. We now understand that more highway capacity tends to bring more traffic and more congestion. The best solutions for the future must be found in expansion of alternative travel modes, especially transit. So far, transit is the most efficient way to move people – to meet their daily demand for commuting, for shopping and for most other travel.
Unlike the current melodrama of national politics, the KOP region is an arena with the will and the means to foster a civil dialogue and thoughtful public debate – one that is based on the facts and our best vision of the future. While our anxiety about the future and the fear of change is real, it must not blind us or prevent us from shaping the best future for the community as a whole.
By: Peter Javsicas, Exec. Director Emeritus, Pennsylvanians for Transportation Solutions, Inc.