Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

Quality of Life – A force that can affect housing values, residential and commercial growth and … local pride!

I received an email from John Harding of Econsult, www.econsult.com in regards to a Coatesville economic survey that his company is conducting and asking if I would post links on Community Matters.  According to their website, Econsult Corporation provides economic impact analysis, transportation economics, policy and planning, project and program evaluation and travel and tourism.

Econsult has been hired by Coatesville to conduct a study to get ideas about Coatesville today and what people would like Coatesville to look in 5 to 10 years.  As part of the study, Econsult will gather citizen and stakeholder input on three main areas:

  • What types of buildings and uses are appropriate downtown;
  • What kind of retail options are most valuable; and
  • What kind of amenities would help make Coatesville a better place to live, work, and play

Here are the links to the Econsult survey:

English version:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/767P22J

Spanish version:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/S7BTDP7

Aside from singing at the Coatesville Veterans Hospitalwith the Noteables, my exposure to Coatesville has been limited.  However, some of you may be more qualified to respond to the survey.

The Econsult survey reminds me of a couple of things –

(1)  Recently Tredyfffrin Twp received a $50K grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s (DVRPC) Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI) grant program.  The township has issued a RFP, “Request for Proposals for Analysis and Revisions of Zoning Ordinance Commercial Districts”.  The township seeks a consult team to “analyze ways to consolidate and modernize its commercial zoning regulations, and to lead an effort to inform and educate Township officials and stakeholders on optimal approaches that have led to successful implementation in other communities”.

(2) In November, the Board of Supervisors formed the Tredyffrin Business Development Advisory Council, which included 6 members, 4 liaison community members and township staff.  As I understand it, the 6 members were to help plan and develop strategies for business and economic development.  I have been told that the members are meeting regularly and that they will make their report public within 4 months.  As the advisory council moves forward with their project, they are to make periodic updates to the Board of Supervisors.

Communities all over the country are experiencing rapid changes that will set precedence for the future. We need a vision of what could be but what is also realistically possible.  Is that part of the job of the economic development advisory council?

Communities that refuse to plan for growth and for change, or that refuse to put infrastructure in place that allow for positive changes are always going to play “catch up”.  We can look around and see where some communities – Media, Phoenixville, Wayne, West Chester have been successful and where others seem to be stuck in a time warp.  Of course, we all know that the economy is unstable.  But if we wait until the national economy stabilizes, it will be impossible to plan for the future.  The future is coming whether the economy stabilizes or not.  Those places that improve the quality of life for their citizens are going to grow and prosper, no matter what happens to the national economy.

“Quality of life” is nebulous and hard to define but it is a condition that sets communities apart from one another.  We have all traveled to areas where we think to ourselves, “this place is nice” and conversely, we have all been to neighborhoods where the feeling is anything but nice.  Quality of life is a force that can affect housing values, residential and commercial growth and . . . local pride.  And quality of life is very hard to maintain.  Once it begins, deterioration can be rapid.  There are signs of deterioration  here in this community – the empty commercial and retail spaces, infrastructure improvement needs, maintenance in township park issues . . .  and even light bulbs!

What does it take to insure that the quality of life grows with a community?  It takes vision to see what could be and what is possible and practical.  It takes creativity to think outside the box and maybe stop thinking that we have to do it the way it has been done before.  And of course, it does take money.   Instead of complaining about the situation, and questioning why things are not getting done, why not ask ourselves what ‘we’ can do?

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Toll Road Privatization – Is this the Answer to State’s Infrastructure Problems?

Huffington Post today contained a timely article on the privatization of highways and their tolling, Toll Road Privatization: As Ohio Considers It, Indiana Serves As Cautionary Tale. 

The article discusses that state’s across the country are looking at privatizing highways as a way to finance necessary infrastructure repairs.  One interesting tolling concept discussed would privatize Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway around my hometown, Washington, DC.  Partnering with private investors using an 80-year lease, the plan would develop a ‘HOT’ (high occupancy toll) lanes.  Here’s way the plan would work – if you are a commuter with 3 people in a car you won’t have to pay a toll but if you are commuting with 2 people, you would pay a toll to ride in the fast lane.  This plan would guarantee revenue for the length of the lease. A HOV lane typically requires 2 persons in the car but in this instance, a HOT lane rewards those commuters with 3 or more persons — no toll.

Jeremy Roebuck of MontCo Memo, a blogger writing on Montgomery County politics and communities writes an interesting post today on the Montgomery County politics of the tolling of 422. Looks like there are some Montgomery County politicians who believe to support 422 tolling could be their poison pill in November. Here’s Roebuck’s post:

MontCo Memo, www.philly.com – posted by Jeremy Roebuck

For whom 422 tolls?

Well, that didn’t take long… 

A week ago Montgomery County’s commissioner candidates adopted a mostly wait-and-see attitude regarding the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s plan to toll 422 to fund much-needed, congestion-easing improvements. This week, all four have come out against the plan.

Incumbent Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr. and his Republican ticket running mate Jenny Brown, a Lower Merion Commissioner, released a statement Wednesday declaring their opposition. Said Brown: “The taxpayers have already paid for route 422, and tolling in this circumstance is not appropriate.”

Brown has a history of being a fiscally conservative hawk on Lower Merion’s board of supervisors, so no surprises there. Castor, who said last week he wasn’t crazy about the idea but needed more information, joined Brown in full-throated condemnation Wednesday.

Not to be outdone, Democratic candidates State Rep. Josh Shapiro and Whitemarsh Supervisor Leslie Richards released a joint-statement of their own, also poo-pooing the prospects of tolls: “We are committed to reducing congestion on our roadways–particularly along the Rt. 422 corridor. While we are in search of workable solutions to address our infrastructure needs, we are opposed to the Rt. 422 tolling plan.”  Last week, Richards said she looked forward to seeing what the DVRPC was going to propose.

It was always going to be a tough sell. To pass, the DVRPC’s plan needs approval first from the state assembly — which must approve legislation allowing locally run tolling authorities in the state. Then, county commissioners had to come together in Montgomery, Chester and Berks Counties to create such an authority here.

And while many state and local politicos agree in private that the tolling proposal is the only way 422’s congestion will be eased any time soon, it’s become political poison among the area’s cash-strapped commuters.

Don’t think for a second those political factors haven’t weighed on the minds of the DVRPC’s planners. Unveiling the plan during a county election year is a gamble as it is sure to become an issue in commissioners’ campaigns in the three counties. But putting it off another year, would drop the question right in the middle of State Assembly races. (State Rep. Warren Kampf, R., Chester, has already shown the power of taking a strong anti-toll stance. He unseated incumbent Paul Drucker in part on a platform opposed to tolling.)

Still, Joseph M. Hoeffel III — vice chair of MontCo’s commissioners’ board, head of the DVRPC, and one of the tolling plan’s chief proponents — thinks there’s still room to navigate these tricky political waters.

Then again, he’s not running for re-election.

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The ‘To Toll or Not to Toll’ Discussion Continues . . . A Personal Response from State Rep Warren Kampf

The ‘To Toll or Not to Toll’ discussion continues . . . the tolling of 422 continues to make headlines and yesterday was a busy day for legislators on either side of the issue.

In an op-ed article (6/9/11) in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joe Hoeffel (D), vice chair of the Montgomery County Commission and chair of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, wrote, “there isn’t enough state or federal money for the job. The state has budgeted $250 million for the Route 422 corridor over the next decade, but transportation experts agree that $750 million is needed. And nobody believes the legislature or Congress will provide that kind of funding anytime soon. Without a new funding source, 422 will not be fixed for at least 30 years, according to projections by the state Department of Transportation. By that time, the highway will be gridlocked for much of the day.”  Hoeffel supports tolling of 422 and believes that a modest toll could generate $800 million in a few years.

Opposing the tolling of 422, state representatives David Maloney, (R) Berks, Marcy Toepel, (R) Montgomery, Tom Quigley, (R) Montgomery and Warren Kampf (R), our 157th district representative, held a news conference in Phoenixville yesterday.  Calling the 422 project, the Hoeffel Tolling Plan, these local legislators do not believe that tolling is a viable option to pay for infrastructure improvements.  Click here for a short video clip of the press conference.

There continues to be much written and discussed about the tolling of 422.  Depending on how you feel about the topic, you can find supporters on either side of the issue; those for tolling and those against tolling. However, regardless of your personal views on  tolling, I think we can all agree that the traffic congestion on 422 is a commuter’s nightmare and that something needs to change, and. . . we need people with a vision to encourage that change.

We aware that our own state representative continues to stand behind his ‘no tolling of 422′ campaign message — but it was unclear to me whether Kampf considered that Route 422 was actually a traffic problem.  Seeking clarification on his ‘422 traffic’ position, I sent him this simple email a couple of days ago:

Dear Rep. Kampf,

As my elected State Representative, do you believe that there is a traffic problem on Route 422?

Thank you and I look forward to your response.

Pattye Benson

As some of you are aware, my previous communication with Kampf has not always been the most successful. Now that he is our elected state representative, I was curious to see if anything had changed and admit I was pleasantly surprised that he took the time to send a personal and lengthy response. I believe that there is value in my sharing his response and have notified him that I would be adding it to today’s post on Community Matters.  His reply to my email:

Pattye:

Thank you for your email. I welcome the opportunity to respond.

As you may have heard, I am on record as being against tolling 422. I believe that this “toll” is just another name for a tax on the already overburdened commuters of that roadway. But I recognize that 422 is a transportation problem for commuters.

The idea to address 422’s needs without tolling is not solely mine; Governor Corbett has convened a Transportation Funding Advisory Committee that is looking at over 50 prospective ways to address the funding gap for our road/bridge infrastructure (tolling is one of the options but in no way is it the only option being discussed). I believe that prioritizing, finding cost savings and advocacy for our regional roadways must be tools considered as part of the discussion too.

I have empathy for the people who drive that roadway, and I have my own personal experience on 422 to draw from. We all pay the same gas taxes and vehicle fees that others in Pennsylvania pay, but the response to fix our road has been to ask my constituents to pay up to $5 a day more for the privilege of driving that road! That just seems unfair.

Other areas have had road and bridge needs addressed. PennDOT does have a larger plan for the area’s roads. As you know, 202 is getting significant improvement. Route 309 was also rebuilt. These projects came to fruition not with tolling revenue but with the already existing sources within the Commonwealth that I mentioned above. Why is 422 unique?

There is over $240 Million currently programmed for improvement of 422 during the next eight (8) years within the PennDOT plans. This is in the plan without tolling. While it is not enough, and does not come fast enough, it will be a good start. Tolling does not appear likely to make this set of improvements happen any faster that I can tell. Further, this proposal is being billed as a public private partnership, but fundamentally it is almost entirely public money—both tolls and other transportation funding—that will pay for these improvements. Finally, there is a rail line proposal in the mix here, paid for with toll money. While I certainly recognize the attractiveness of restored rail to towns like Phoenixville, this will in all likelihood require management by SEPTA, or some such entity, and we know such rail lines usually run at a significant deficit year in and year out. That cost will ultimately pass on to the taxpayers, and I campaigned on a platform that promised the taxpayer, in tough times such as these and in good times, a seat at the table when these decisions are made. I feel I am making good on that commitment but seeking alternatives.

As a final thought, we built 422 with public money. We have maintained it with public money. We have continued to collect those monies and have an obligation to serve the people who drive that road. One could argue it would be a violation of the public trust to change the game now and introduce tolls. The 422 corridor continues to grow in large part because of the access that road provides. Indeed, it is a road regularly used for shopping and other trips not related to “commuting.” I believe my constituents feel as I do, and I welcome your input.

Thank you for your question.

Warren

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Looks like the 422 Tolling Vision has Taken a Step Forward to Becoming Tomorrow’s Reality!

The vision of some to toll 422 moved one step closer to a reality yesterday . . . and by all accounts, did so with flying colors. 

Barry Seymour of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) along with Joe Hoeffel, Montgomery County Commissioner presented the 422-tolling proposal to the Governors Transportation Funding Advisory Commission.  To review the 422 Corridor Plus slide presentation from the meeting, click here.  — I found the information detailed and informative; helped to give me a better picture on the scope of the project.

I was curious to hear the comments and reactions to the 422 presentation and spoke with a Paoli resident who attended the Harrisburg meeting.  Reportedly, there was no tolling opposition from the advisory group – in fact, there was much positive feedback from those in attendance.  Although this meeting is only the first step in a long process, it seems that the DVRPC’s presentation answered several of the questions that I had —

If approved, what the timeline for the 422 project:  2015. 
How much commuter time saved:  DVRPC estimates 20 min.
Toll costs:  A range, $.50 – $2.65, depending on distance travelled.  Four electronic toll booths to be constructed; drivers to use EZ pass.

As discussed earlier, the management of the 422 tolling project would remain local and all revenue generated from the project would be used for local projects, including the light rail commuter train.  I don’t know how I feel about creating another commission or board for this project.  According to a friend, this project could fall under the umbrella of the PA Turnpike Commission with a mandate to keep the tolls generated from 422 locally in Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties. If that’s the case, why create another board; why not have the project fall under the Turnpike Commissioner’s responsibility. I guess the thought is if the project is handled separately under local management, it helps sell the project to residents and possibly adds a level guarantee that the tolling dollars remain here.

In asking how the project would be funded, I was told that initially it would be funded with a $1 billion bond, which would be repaid by tolling revenue.  I’m guessing that the bond issue needs support from the local municipalities involved – would the funding of the project require a voter referendum in the Chester, Montgomery and Berks county districts involved?

Looks like the 422 tolling vision of some has taken a step forward to becoming tomorrow’s reality!

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The 422 Tolling Debate Continues . . . Area Planners vs Anti-Tax Politicians

There is an interesting article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer which gives some of the planned details of the 422 tolling plan.  For instance, I did not realize that if the 422 project moves forward, it will become the first locally managed toll system of its type in Pennsylvania. 

The politics of the 422 tolling issue continues to remain in the news.  On one side are the planners.  These ‘visionaries’ not only look at the specific problems of today but also have the job of forecasting the future and try to plan accordingly. The congestion and major traffic problems of Route 422 are not going to magically disappear so than we have the question as to how to pay for the planner’s recommendations.

Many politicians recently won their local elections in Pennsylvania on anti-tax platforms.  So now those elected officials in the Rt. 422 corridor are faced with the problem of not supporting the tolling of 422, and struggling with designing a plan to pay for the needed infrastructure improvements.  Current funding trends nationwide indicate communities will have to be more self-reliant in the future.   

How does the elected official balance what is right for the tax payer vs the funding issue to improve 422’s infrastructure issue? 

Planners put positive spin on tolls for stretch of 422
By Jeremy Roebuck
Philadelphia Inquirer – Sun, Nov. 28, 2010

There might be no more frustrating, dashboard-banging, horn-worthy commute in the Philadelphia suburbs than Route 422’s 25-mile stretch. But are local drivers willing to pay to ease that daily backup? It depends on how you ask the question, regional planners say.  The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a host of local governments have launched a public-relations campaign extolling the benefits of adding tolls to the congested highway.

“If you ask people, ‘Do you support tolling 422?’ they will likely say no,” said Leo Bagley, Montgomery County’s chief traffic planner. “But if you ask them, ‘Would you support tolling 422 to fund all these improvements?’ they’re more likely to consider it.”

The DVRPC launched its 422plus website last month to promote the proposal – the result of a $625,000 study funded by the U.S. and Pennsylvania Departments of Transportation and Montgomery, Chester, and Berks Counties.

While it lays out a plan to relieve traffic congestion, many of its details remain undetermined – and whatever is finally proposed would require approval of county and state governments.  But the January report is expected to propose a toll of 11 cents a mile. For vehicles with E-ZPass, the fees would be recorded by overhead transponders at four locations. Drivers without E-ZPass would be billed through photos of their license plates.

Traveling the length of the state highway, which runs from King of Prussia past Pottstown to Reading, could cost up to $2.75 one way, according to planners. All of the revenue would be devoted to 422-corridor projects. If granted legislative approval, the project would become the first locally managed highway toll system of its kind in Pennsylvania. And it could mean the difference between completing proposed improvements in 10 years versus the 30 expected should planners wait on state funding.

The 422plus planning group began looking toward locally funded improvements well before this year’s $475 million shortfall in the state’s transportation budget, Fray said. That gap, caused by U.S. rejection of a plan to install tolls on I-80, only drove home the point that waiting for state highway money could take decades.  “If we want improvements on 422, we have to control our own destiny,” Bagley said. “If we raise the money, we keep it here.”  

Before any of these plans can be enacted, they will need support from local officials. Four county governments would have to vote to create a regional tolling authority. State legislators would have to give it power to toll the road.

And that might be a tough sell given the antitax mood among the electorate.  Warren Kampf, a Republican from Tredyffrin, was elected to the state House this month on a platform that in part opposed the tolling plan. His district includes the most heavily used stretch of 422, between Audubon and King of Prussia, where 110,000 vehicles a day pass.  “To toll people that are going to work in these difficult economic times doesn’t seem right,” Kampf said in a campaign interview. “The gas taxes, the income taxes, the emission fees, the registration fees, and the turnpike tolls are all largely collected in this area. I believe there’s money within our current revenue.”

Some municipal officials gearing up for elections next year have already taken strong stands on the issue.  “I don’t think the situation is going to improve. It’s only going to get worse as more businesses locate out here and more homes are built,” says Sue Padilla, an Oaks business owner, in one of the videos. “If we wait for traditional revenue sources it’s going to be way far down the road.”

Richard Dix, 59, an unemployed machinist from Royersford, said he was willing to do whatever it took to fix what has essentially become a parking lot during the peak of rush hour. He routinely avoids 422 by cutting through side roads. “Make them pay something, and maybe I’ll reconsider,” he said. “That highway’s a nightmare.”

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Help Make Paoli More Walk and Bike-Friendly . . . Plan to attend the open house workshop

Tredyffrin Township is sponsoring a Paoli Pedestrian and Bike Study Workshop with support from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.  The open house workshop will discuss walking, biking in Paoli and connecting to the Chester Valley Trail system.  This is the first public workshop and public input during the process is important.  Please plan on attending the workshop; let’s help make Paoli more walk and bike-friendly!

When: Wednesday, March 24

Time: Stop in any time between 4:00 and 8:00 PM to view project materials and provide input. A brief presentation will be made at 4:15 PM and repeated at 5:15 PM,  6:15 PM and 7:15 PM.

Where: Delaware Valley Friends School, 19 East Central Avenue, Paoli

Questions or Further Information: Please contact EJ Lee, Tredyffrin Township, at 610.408.3625 or ejlee@tredyffrin.org.

Workshop Poster: Paoliworkshop Bike-Walk flyer

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