Sunday, November 28, 2004


The Pottstown Mercury reports that $10 million in federal funding will be allocated for the ongoing saga that is the $chuylkill Valley rail corridor:

... [T]he project has struggled to win federal funding approval over the years, largely because the projected cost has steadily risen beyond $2.5 billion.

The Metro money in this bill -- a bill that has been criticized as excessive and full of "pork barrel" projects in the national press and by Arizona Sen. John McCain -- will be used for engineering and design work, according to a release from the office of Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

Sen. McCain has long been known as an opponent of rail service in general, specifically Amtrak. However, the senator seems to be referring to the whole bill in general...

You don’t have to tell Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-6th Dist., about how important the Metro is.

When the price tag threatened to kill the project entirely, Gerlach was among a handful of officials who stepped in to try to whittle the cost down to a level that would make it viable for federal funding.

In fact, he said the final recommendations from the oversight committee he convened may be released in December or early January.

"The talks on this are on track, no pun intended," Gerlach said with a dry chuckle.

All the people of the 6th District can say is "Thank god this guy was re-elected."

"In the next few months, the engineers and consultants who are doing the actual crunching of the numbers to try to get us below $800 million will be reporting back with their final recommendations," said Gerlach.

The reason the price tag needs to get to that magic number, Gerlach said, is because the Federal Transit Admin-istration "is not funding any new project over $800 million."

With an FTA official at the table during these talks, Gerlach said he remains hopeful the project, which is seen as particularly important for the revitalization of older boroughs like Phoenixville, Royersford and Pottstown, can move forward.

"As far as they’re concerned, we’re asking the right questions and looking for the right answers," said Gerlach.

"Right now, we’re considering questions such as whether to go with diesel or electric; how many stops we should have; whether to go with 15-, 20- or 30-minute intervals and where in Philadelphia it should stop, 30th Street or Suburbia Station, that sort of thing," said Gerlach.

"We’re trying to whittle the cost down and still keep it viable in terms of ridership," he said.

"It’s a two-pronged ap-proach," Gerlach said. "We need to reach a regional consensus and we need to keep the federal money flowing into it."

Hopefully, one of those prongs will involve SEPTA being stripped of anything to do with this project at all...

Ultimately, that federal money will only amount to 60 percent of the total cost if the project is approved.

The remainder of the funding will have to come from state or local sources, said the two-term Con-gressman.

"The local share could come from a variety of sources, even in-kind services," said Gerlach. "For example, a private group could pay to retrofit the Pottstown train station or something like that."

Who in their right minds would want to even invest in an armpit like Pottstown is beyond me, but that's another rant for another time...

In any case, elected officials, along with those who have followed this project from day one, will anxiously await the results of Congressman Gerlach's panel...

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