Federal Funding Possible for New DRPA Rail Projects

There’s a policy change happening at the Federal Transit Administration, and it could mean new funding opportunities for DRPA’s expansions in Center City and South Jersey.

Under funding guidelines enacted during the Bush administration, neither of these projects would have met FTA metrics for cost-effectiveness as measured by reductions in commuting time or new riders attracted. But at yesterday’s Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the Obama administration will revise the guidelines to weigh other factors more heavily.

The projects include a streetcar system that would operate from a reopened Franklin Square Station down Delaware Avenue, as well as a spur along Market Street to City Hall Station. The other project is a new branch of the PATCO Speedline connecting to Rowan University, Glassboro, and eventually Millville. The latter line last saw commuter service in 1971.

Update: Jay from Garden State Smart Growth was nice enough to write in with some information on why this may not be as exciting as it seems on the sufrace.

I spoke with the DRPA last week about this issue (the possibility of federal funds being used for the extension now that the rules have changed) and frankly they didn’t seem that excited about it (I had the same reaction you did to the news of the rule change). Their view was “sure these new criteria are better for our project, but they’re also better for a lot of projects, and don’t necessarily give us a better shot of getting funds, which haven’t really increased as a result”.

Not to say that its still not a noteworthy change, but it may not be enough to secure the financing of the project. A much bigger issue is whether NJ will get their act together in refunding the Transportation Trust Fund, which will be necessary for any future transportation spending (including the $500 million that was ‘committed’ to this project by Corzine). Christie has repeatedly opposed raising new revenue for the fund, and his transition team suggested cutting the PATCO project entirely as a way to save money.

Finally, the DRPA person I spoke to indicated they were operating under the assumption that the line would not be constructed all at once, but rather they would try to do the Camden to Woodbury leg first, and do the leg to Glassboro when they get the money. Which sucks, because I used to live in Glassboro and think it would be awesome.