What’s the future of the Paoli Transportation Center project . . . Remember, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’!

I continue to wonder about the PA Department of Transportation’s interest in the Downingtown train station; the cost of purchasing land and building a new train station when the existing station is only 20 years old.  I am certain that Downingtown probably needs additional parking but with one-third the daily ridership of Paoli, I am troubled how the Downingtown project, seemingly out of nowhere, appears to have shot to the ‘head of the class’ in interest for the DOT.  With major budget cuts in Harrisburg, and a finite amount of dollars for transportation projects, there should be alarm for existing transportation projects such as the Ardmore Transit Center and the Paoli Transportation Center. Will there be enough money to go around to all these projects?

There is concern in Ardmore that their long-standing transportation project may likewise take a backseat to Downingtown, and the suggestion is that it is political connections – either by Downingtown elected officials or ‘lack of’ connections by Ardmore’s elected officials.  To read further about Ardmore, see the latest post from Carla at Save Ardmore Coalition.

Why does politics have to drive projects in Harrisburg?  Is it the squeaky wheel that gets greased?  Sen. Andy Dinniman’s jurisdiction covers both Downingtown and Paoli, so which train station project does he prioritize . . . the project that is years in the making (Paoli) or this new train station project in Downingtown? 

Serving as state representative for the 155th legislative district, which includes Downingtown, is Curt Schroder (R-East Brandywine).  A quick review of his website did not produce any news on the Downingtown train project, but I did discover that Schroder chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee that is responsible for the state’s gambling industry.  As a senior state representative, I am guessing that Schroder has a direct line to Harrisburg and the governor.

Back to the Paoli Transportation Center – some would suggest that what goes on in Downingtown has no bearing on Paoli; that these transportation projects are separate and apart.  You know the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, I think that sums up the Paoli Transportation Center project.  How does a community sustain interest in a project, when there appears to be so little forward movement? 

In 1996, the Paoli Rail Yards Task Force composed of representatives from Tredyffrin and Willistown Townships, Chester County, Septa, Amtrak, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the US Environmental Protection Agency, PennDot and elected officials completed a feasibility study that recommended:

  • construction of a new station and associated facilities 800 feet west of the current station;
  • preparation of a conceptual transportation center, access and development plan; and
  • preparation of preliminary development costs and income potential.

Look again at the date of that study, 1996 . . . 15 years ago!  We know that Rome wasn’t built in a day but how many years does it take to build the Paoli Transportation Center?

Last June 2010, there appeared to be a shot in the arm for the Paoli Transportation Center.  Former State Rep Paul Drucker, a staunch supporter of the Paoli transportation project, announced $1 million in state funding from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program for the construction of the Paoli Intermodal Transportation facility and named Strategic Realty Investment as the project’s developer. Through Drucker’s efforts in Harrisburg, there seemed to be a renewed sense of urgency and momentum to build the train station with on-site parking garage and new office and retail space.  Evidenced by the $1 million in state funding, many of us saw this as kick-starting the project that would create jobs and provide economic stimulus for the community.

When Drucker lost his state house re-election bid in November, did the community also lose their most vocal supporter of the Paoli Transportation Center project? During the last 13 months, since the announcement of the $1 million funding, I have not heard of any ‘new’ news on the train station project. We saw the Paoli Transportation Center project used in campaign literature in November and by political candidates in the May primary, but what really has changed in the last 13 months?

Hoping to gain perspective and an update on the Paoli Transportation Center project, I contacted elected officials and supervisor candidates.  The following individuals were contacted for comments:  State Rep Warren Kampf, State Rep Dwayne Milne, Michelle Kichline and John DiBuonaventuro,   (Tredyffrin Twp supervisors and members of the Paoli Rail Yards Task Force) Norm MacQueen (Willistown Twp supervisor) and Tredyffrin Twp supervisor candidates Kristen Mayock, Tory Snyder, Mike Heaberg, Paul Olsen, Murph Wysocki and Molly Duffy.

Understanding my short timeline for responses, coupled with summer vacation and work schedules, I accepted that some of those contacted would be unable to respond.  However, I want to thank those that did take time from their busy summer schedules to offer their comments for Community Matters readers.

As a response for an update on the Paoli Transportation Center, I received the following from State Rep Warren Kampf:

Pattye:

Thank you for your email. I appreciate your concern as a constituent regarding the Paoli Transportation Center.

My recollection is that most of the legislators and County officials support this project. The PennDOT Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) currently has the Paoli Transportation Center (MPMS# 47979 and MPMS #60574) as a priority project and Chester County has this listed at the top of their list.

Every few years the TIP projects are reviewed and that process is again underway. I will continue to advocate for the Paoli Transportation Center. Other communities have needs of course, but I consider Paoli to be a very high priority.

I would caution you or anyone who sees planning or activity on other projects, for example, Downingtown, as somehow linked to the standing of Paoli. The process does not appear to work that way as I understand it. My belief is any work related to Downingtown that would receive State funding would need to go through the TIP process, and I do not see it on the TIP list I have. Further, I presume that the size of that project is far, far smaller than Paoli, so they would logically have different levels of work and funding associated with them, and probably very different timelines.

The Paoli project is moving forward. I am told that both Tredyffrin Township and SEPTA are preparing separate RFPs for road way design needed for the transportation center this summer. Precise timelines, however, are not available. That there is work being done, and the funding needed for that work exists, are good signs in my view.

Warren

Michelle Kichline and John DiBuonaventuro as Tredyffrin Twp supervisors and members of the Paoli Rail Yards Task Force provided the following joint response:

In response to your question about the status of the Paoli Transportation Center, the following is the most recent update:

Both Tredyffrin Township and Septa are about to issue Requests for Proposals for transit and road improvements. all of the work will be grant funded, mostly from federal funds.

SEPTA’s RFP will be for design of the new station and parking garages. Tredyffrin is issuing 2 RFPs : one to lead the public input process and design road improvements associated with the Paoli Transportation Center; and the other for the design of the improvements recommended by the recent feasibility study for the Rt 252/30 intersection. The Township told me that once the RFPs are ready to go out they will be posted on the Township website, along with a project update.

We are assured by Township and County representatives that Paoli remains a top transportation priority for Chester County. It continues to have the support of Federal and State representatives.

If you have any further questions please let us know.

I sent the following question to Tredyffrin Twp supervisor candidates Mike Heaberg, Tory Snyder, Paul Olsen, Kristen Mayock and Murph Wysocki:

Please make a brief statement on the Paoli Transportation Center project. In 200 words or less, please offer your opinion on why the project has lagged for 15+ years, if there is a future for the project and whether or not you support the project. If you support the Paoli Transportation Center project, as a supervisor, what would you do to ensure that it is a priority of the state’s Department of Transportation and receives adequate funding.

Below are responses from Heaberg, Synder, Mayock and Wysocki:

I fully support a new Paoli Transportation Center, built in a way that improves the quality of life of our community and fully protects the interests of Tredyffrin residents.  This project is a top local transportation priority for our federal and state legislators, the DVRPC, PennDOT, SEPTA and Amtrak. 

As a current Supervisor, I have participated in recent planning discussions and at our upcoming meetings the Tredyffrin BOS will consider two Requests for Proposals: 1) a public input process to assure that our community’s voices are heard and 2) design of local road improvements in the Paoli community, including the 30/252 intersection.  Also, SEPTA is preparing a RFP for the design of the new station and parking garages.

We’re making progress…Thank you for your interest in this important project.

Michael Heaberg
Current Supervisor-At-Large
Republican Candidate for Supervisor-At-Large

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It is frustrating to see how slowly the Paoli project is taking, but it is significantly more complicated than a “simple” regional rail station relocation.  The Paoli project is a public/private development on a former superfund site, which required clean-up, a zoning change in two municipalities,  awarding of a contract to a private developer, coordination of two transit agencies (Amtrak and Septa), and juggling of various public funding sources.  We have actually made a huge amount of progress on this complex process, but the devil is in the details and that is where we are  —  waiting for formal submission of plans from the developer and the transit agencies. That said, I believe that at least in Tredyffrin, there have been a number of individuals, some elected, some not, who have been advocates for the Paoli project over the years and have given endless hours of their time to help move the process forward. What I think we have lacked is a united Board of Supervisors in support and as advocates of the project, without which the need for the project probably seems less urgent at the state and federal levels. My goal as Supervisor would be to work to create that united front.

Victoria “Tory” Snyder,
Democratic Candidate for Supervisor, East District

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Paoli has the potential to be a jewel in Tredyffrin.  As someone who uses the Paoli station for travel to Philadelphia and New York and who lives near the station, I strongly support and will advocate for the Paoli train station redevelopment project.

The infrastructure of the station is outdated and dilapidated.  The roads around the station are unsafe and gridlocked.  Lack of parking is a significant contributing cause of failed local businesses.  Tredyffrin has lost out to neighboring townships in attracting new businesses because of the limited usefulness and overall undesirability of the Paoli station.  We cannot afford to continue to do so.  Exactly why the project has lagged is not as important at this juncture as recognizing the progress made in the last few years and keeping the pressure on to advance the project. Tredyffrin has a unique opportunity to transform a run-down station into a vibrant, smart growth transportation center.  Intelligent redevelopment of the Paoli Rail Yard will encourage economic development in the Township, improve local traffic problems, alleviate congestion on local roads and encourage rail travel.

This project is going to happen. Tredyffrin and SEPTA have already put the wheels in motion for transit, station, parking and area road improvements, using mostly federal grants.  I have existing relationships with the Township and State leaders who are active participants in the reinvigoration of this project.  As Supervisor, I will ask to be a member of the Township’s Task Force, making it one of my top priorities.

Kristen Kirk Mayock
Republican Candidate for Supervisor-At-Large
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Tredyffrin’s Opportunity. Some might offer the following reasons for the more than fifteen year tortuous path of the Paoli Transportation Center (Center)—complicated project, numerous governmental and private stakeholders, burdensome procedures, environmental issues, money, developers, and two townships.  I say that this project has suffered from a lack of political will and vision.  The Tredyffrin community would have long been enjoying a completed Center and a vibrant Paoli if Tredyffrin’s governmental leaders had vigorously pursued this important project with vision and leadership.

I fully support the completion of the Paoli Transportation Center.  This project creates jobs, short term and long term.  The Center will revitalize Paoli.  It will help make Paoli a vibrant town center in and for our Tredyffrin community.  The new Paoli will mean an expanded tax base for the Township. 

If elected, I will fight for the completion of the Paoli Transportation Center.  I will work with my fellow supervisors to present a united front in Harrisburg in the pursuit of project priority and funding. I will lobby legislators and other governmental officials, alone and with other stakeholders, relentlessly seeking our  rightful share of funds.  We must seize this opportunity for our Tredyffrin community.

Thank you,

F. Michael “Murph” Wysocki
Democratic Candidate for Supervisor-At-Large

I hope that this offers some perspective on where the Paoli Transportation Center project stands with our elected officials and an indication from supervisor candidates as to what they would do to help the process, should they be elected.  For those unable to respond by today’s deadline, due to work or vacation schedules, I will be glad to add their comments at a later time. 

Also, it is my understanding that there will be an official update on the Paoli Transportation Center project at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.  Looks like  progress and forward movement on the project may be coming this way  . . . .

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2 Comments

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  1. Pattye —

    why didn’t you contact Sen. Dinniman (at least from your list)? would like to hear his take on this.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    You’re right, I missed him. I will send Sen. Dinniman an email & ask for his comments.

    [Reply]

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