Paoli Transit Center

Rather than partisan mudslinging, can we come together and move the Paoli Transit Center project and the economic redevelopment of Paoli forward?

The passage of the $2.4 billion transportation bill which will provide new funding for the state’s roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems over the next five years, and the subsequent $14.5 million award earmarked for the Paoli Transit Center, brought excitement and renewed hope for Paoli. In discussion for 30 years, the train station project has languished with little movement and the new transportation funding, including multi-million dollar award for Paoli Transit Center, could be the needed catalyst. The economic redevelopment of Lancaster Avenue through Paoli hinges on building the Paoli Transit Center – its time is now. Paoli deserves a new beginning.

The release of Chester County Planning Commission’s 2013 Transportation Priority Projects report occurred prior to the House vote on the transportation bill although I did not see it until afterwards.  The report lists Paoli Transit Center as a transportation priority and includes a current photo of Paoli train station serves as the report’s cover. There is no question that the recent release of the Chester County report was a significant factor in the $14.5 million funding award for Paoli.

In addition to the county’s Planning Commission prioritizing Paoli Transit Center, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) continues to strongly support the project.  DVRPC adopts the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), the regionally agreed upon list of priority transportation projects (as required by federal law) and its recommendations. TIP’s 2013-2016 project list includes the Paoli Transit Center as a priority.

As residents in this community, we are aware of the importance of the municipal government and school district receiving Moody’s Aaa bond rating. Moody’s ratings scale range from Aaa (highly unlikely to default) to D (in default).  To receive the highest rating, requires very strong financial operations, ample reserves and strong management policies. In fact, candidates seeking office often promote maintaining our Aaa bond rating on political campaign literature.  So … it was interesting to read that we can add Moody’s Investors Service (www.moodys.com) to the list of those pleased with Pennsylvania’s transportation funding bill, calling it “a credit positive for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania”.  Moody’s also gave the bill a credit positive because it phases out the annual funding burden that the prior transportation bill (Act 44) created for the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

There is strong support for the Paoli Transit Center including Tredyffrin Township (Paoli on the Move), Chester County Planning Commission, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Transportation Improvement Program, SEPTA, Paoli Business and Professional Association, local business community, elected officials and many residents.

However, initial excitement about the transportation bill and multi-million award for the Paoli Transit Center, has been marred by some finger-pointing and local political wrangling.  In advance of the final House vote on the transportation bill, a letter to the editor by Darien Jamieson, chair of the Tredyffrin Democrats, appeared in the Main Line Suburban.  In her letter, Jamieson criticized State Representative Warren Kampf (R-157) for his lack of support for the proposed transportation bill.  Unfortunately, Jamieson took her criticism of Kampf too far, making an inaccurate and unsubstantiated claim.  Jamieson’s letter ‘Warren Kampf – Too Extreme for Tredyffrin’ stated that Kampf took the Grover Norquist “No Tax” pledge. Her statement was not substantiated and the claim was incorrect.

In his response to Jamieson (which also appeared in the Suburban), Kampf refuted her claims, stating, “I have never taken a “no tax increase” pledge with any group, including any in Washington, D.C., as Ms. Jamieson claims. I would challenge her to offer proof for this claim or admit it is 100% a fabrication”.   A couple of days later, the transportation bill passed (without Rep. Kampf’s vote) and the subsequent announcement made about the $14.5 million award for the Paoli Transit Center.

This week Main Line Suburban contains another letter to the editor written by Jamieson. Writing as the chair of the Tredyffrin Township Demoratic Committee, I assumed that the purpose of Jamieson’s latest letter was to offer a public apology to Rep. Kampf for her previous unsupported accusations.  But no, there was no apology or retraction from Jamieson to Kampf in her letter, ‘Warren Kampf: Watch what he does – not what he says’ .

As a supporter of the Paoli Transit Center and the redevelopment of Paoli, I too questioned Kampf’s lack of support for the transportation bill and did not agree with his position.  However, it was wrong of Jamieson to ‘make facts up’ to strengthen her case against Kampf.  The situation made worse by the fact that Jamieson had the opportunity to apologize to Kampf  and retract her accusations and chose not to.

I’m not certain from where Jamieson is taking her cues but I would think that following the local Democrats impressive election wins last month, she would take a low profile. With two newly elected Democrats (Murph Wysocki and Mark Freed) joining Tredyffrin’s historically Republican Board of Supervisors, it would not appear helpful to have their party chair immersed in a ‘war of words’ with our local state representative.  To be successful in their new supervisor roles, requires Wysocki and Freed to leave their political party ‘hats’ at the door and prepare to work hard for all the residents – Republicans, Independents and Democrats. That same sentiment goes for the Republican supervisors.

The transportation bill passed and the community received good news for the Paoli Transit Center – rather than continuing the partisan bickering that only serves to divide, can we come together and move the train station project and the economic redevelopment of Paoli forward.

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JUST IN: Third time is the charm – House passes $2.4 billion transportation funding bill

Just in from Harrisburg – tonight a third vote was taken on the transportation funding bill and it passed 104-95!  Apparently, Gov. Corbett managed to persuade some of his fellow Republicans to switch sides!  At this time, I have no information on how our local elected officials voted except that 63 Republicans and 41 Democrats approved the bill.

Last night the transportation funding bill failed twice to get the necessary votes.  If I were a betting person, I would have bet that after last night’s two failed attempts, that was the end of the road for the proposed transportation funding for 2013 and probably 2014.  Guess third time’s the charm!

The bill will provide $2.4 billion in new funding for the state’s roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems over the next five years. This represents a 39 percent increase in current transportation spending.  The breakdown of the $2.4 billion funding package is $1.8 billion for road, bridge and tunnel improvements, $500 million for public transit systems and $144 million for rail freight, ports and airports.

It should be noted that the bill must still win final passage from the House and the Senate.  Although the Senate overwhelming approved the transportation bill in June it was without the amended House version that lifts the threshold at which public projects must pay union wages.  There’s a clause that would lower construction workers’ pay on some road and bridge projects that are below $100K.

With the approval of the transportation bill, it looks  like the Paoli Transit Center and the PA turnpike widening projects are back on the possible funding table!

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PA Transportation funding bill fails – what does this mean for the future of Paoli Transit Center and Turnpike widening project?

Unfortunately, the clock just ran out for transportation funding in Pennsylvania, at least for the near future.  Late on Monday night, the proposed $2.4 billion PA transportation funding bill was narrowly defeated on the House floor.   The House legislators voted 98 – 103 against the bill, which would have provided new funding for much needed repairs on our roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems.  So close and yet so far away – what does this vote mean for the future of the Paoli Transit Center and the PA Turnpike widening projects in Tredyffrin?

Prior to the House vote on the transportation bill, a critical Op-Ed, ‘Warren Kampf – Too Extreme for Tredyffrin’ written by Tredyffrin Democratic Party Chair Dariel Jamieson appeared in Main Line Suburban.  The article focused on State Rep Warren Kampf (R-157) lack of support for the transportation bill, making a claim that Kampf took a ‘no tax’ pledge and that he [Kampf] is “standing in the way of job creation and prosperity.”

Kampf immediately responded to Jamieson’s criticism with his own Op-Ed, ‘Kampf Refutes Jamieson’s no tax increase pledge’ suggesting that she [Jamieson] needed to “stick to the facts, instead of creating her own” and stating that he never took a ‘no tax’ pledge.  Kampf restated that his opposition of the transportation-funding bill was a decision based on 60,000 of his constituents not wanting an increase in their gas prices to pay for the infrastructure improvements. Kampf separates his vote against the transportation funding bill from his support of local projects, claiming that he does support the Paoli Transit Center and the turnpike widening project.

In my opinion, the immediate future of the Paoli Transit Center was tied directly to the passage of transportation funding bill.  I understand there was no guarantee that the money would have come to Paoli if the bill had passed but clearly without this state funding the future of the project now looks bleak.  This is not a ‘doom and gloom’ forecast, more of a reality check. Money begets money – state funding was required for the transit center if the project was to receive federal funding.  I had heard that if the transportation bill failed, the transit center was not going to stay on SEPTA’s funding list.  So … where exactly is the funding going to come from for the transit center?  Tomorrow night is the third (and final) Paoli Transportation Open House, 4:30 – 8 PM at the Township Building.  In light of the defeated transportation bill, it will be curious to see how SEPTA representatives field funding questions at the Open House!

I think that the future of the PA turnpike widening and associated sound walls and storm water issues is more of a grey area.  Residents whose homes are located along the PA Turnpike have been working on storm water and sound wall issues for years. These issues have affected property values, saleability etc. The PA Turnpike Commission previously stated that if the transportation-funding bill was not passed, their Capital Plan would be reduced by removing major projects. It’s unclear if the turnpike’s construction project in Tredyffrin Township will stay on the front burner or now move to the back of the stove.

Without the House vote to approve transportation funding, when (or if) will the funding for the state’s infrastructure improvements resurface?  Once the momentum is lost, it is difficult to regain – since the funding was not approved in 2013, it’s highly unlikely that anything will happen during 2014 (election year).

In his response to Jamieson in Main Linen Suburban, Kampf reiterated his support of the Paoli Transit Center, but … how does he show his support for the project?  With the defeat of the transportation funding bill, Rep. Kampf is going to have many very unhappy Paoli business owners who were counting on state financial support through this transportation bill, now looking to him for answers. And if the PA Turnpike Commission removes the Tredyffrin section of the widening project from their ‘to do’ list, 4,000 local residents are not going to be pleased and will want someone to blame.

I may not personally agree with Rep. Kampf on his vote not to support the transportation funding bill, but I do give him credit for his unfaltering commitment.  He reported that he has 60,000 constituents who did not want him to support the transportation bill because it’s funding was tied to higher gas prices.  Wrong or right, he never wavered on the transportation funding bill and his vote reflected that decision.

Bottom line … without the approval of the transportation funding bill, the residents of Pennsylvania are left with deteriorating roads and bridges and an uncertain future for the Paoli Transit Center and the PA turnpike widening project.

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Seeking Support for Transportation Funding Bill from PA State Rep. Warren Kampf (R-157)

The infrastructure in Pennsylvania is in trouble and our roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are not going to fix themselves – they need funding.

Earlier this year the PA Senate passed a $2.5 billion transportation funding proposal but the House has yet to vote on the measure … but time is running short for the state lawmakers to make a decision about the transportation funding bill. When elected officials return to Harrisburg on Tuesday, November 12, following their election recess, they only have about 10 session days to get the bill to Gov. Corbett for his signature before the end of the year.

Most of the money (approximately $1.9 billion) in the transportation bill would go for road, bridge and tunnel improvements with an additional $500 million earmarked for mass transit projects. In April 2011, I cited a newly released Transportation of America study that named Pennsylvania as first in the nation for having the “largest percentage of structurally deficient bridges”. Without additional funding, the structurally deficient bridges are likely to be weight-restricted, and in some cases, closed.  Beyond the obvious travel difficulties (and potential safety risks) for motorists, the deteriorating infrastructure is no boon to the state’s economic situation.

Of particular interest in the transportation funding bill is the $500 million component marked for mass transit   – one would think that the Paoli Transit Center project would be a candidate. The long and winding road for the Paoli Transit Center looks to now hinge on receiving funding from the proposed transportation bill.   According to Tredyffrin Township Manager Bill Martin, in a MLMN article last month, “If the state can’t meet its current infrastructure needs, all new transportation projects – including Paoli’s – will be held up. Funding brings in more funding. Without state dollars for the project, we can’t get federal dollars and we won’t be able to make deals with private developers.” 

Beyond the Paoli redevelopment project, the Tredyffrin residents whose properties are close to the PA Turnpike, specifically in the Great Valley, Chesterbrook and Glenhardie areas, are seeing the turnpike widening and sound wall plan  ‘on hold’ pending the passage of the transportation funding bill.   The PA Turnpike Commissioners have not approved their fiscal year 2014 Capital Plan that contains the turnpike widening and associated sound walls in Tredyffrin Township. According to a recent email that I received as a member of the PA Turnpike Design Roundtable, “The delay in the [Capital Plan] approval is linked to the ongoing negotiations for statewide transportation funding.  … Hopefully, transportation funding will be address in the near future, and a fiscal year 2014 Capital Plan will be approved.”

The proposed transportation bill that is waiting for approval from State lawmakers significantly impacts two major Tredyffrin Township projects – the Paoli Transit Center and the PA Turnpike (in addition to the improvement of state roads and bridges in the township).  The bill overwhelmingly cleared the Senate in June, what is it going to take for the lawmakers in the House to approve it and send it on to Gov. Corbett for his signature?

Low approval ratings and a challenging reelection battle looming, has Corbett stumping for the passage of the transportation bill.  According to the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll (October 2013), only one in five registered voters (20%) in Pennsylvania approve of the job that Corbett is doing and 61 percent believe that the state is “off on the wrong track”.   You have to think that the passage of a $2.5 billion transportation bill that would improve roads, bridges and transit systems could help boost the Governor’s sagging approval ratings.

State representatives Warren Kampf (R-157) and Duane Milne (R-167) each have a section of the PA Turnpike in their Districts and likewise their Districts overlap in the Paoli redevelopment project.  And like Governor Corbett, Republicans Kampf and Milne are both up for reelection in 2014. Milne is on record as supporting the transportation bill, stating in Main Line Suburban, “Without a substantial transportation bill, there is close to zero chance that the Paoli project gets funded in anywhere close to the foreseeable future. Our state is near the bottom in terms of its roads and transportation system. There is no revenue stream that will let us do first-class upgrades to our roads and infrastructure. If there’s no bill, it’s going to hurt our ability to do new projects like Paoli. We’ll be looking at the status quo or at a declining status quo.”

On the other hand, Kampf has been vocal in his opposition of the proposed transportation bill, at least in its present form.  Although Kampf in not questioning the need for infrastructure improvements, he objects to lifting the tax ceiling on gas wholesalers that would then be passed onto consumers as a means of paying for transportation improvements.  According to his Op-Ed article on TE Patch,  Kampf states that the, “passage of this legislation as it is today offers no guarantees for the future of that, or any other, local project.”   We know that there is no guarantee on project allocation in the funding bill but there is a flipside to this argument — What happens to the Paoli Transit Center project if the currently proposed transportation bill passes the House without Kampf’s signature?

With neighboring District state representatives at odds over the transportation bill, this could be the death knell for our local train station redevelopment project.  If the bill passes without Kampf’s support it seems probable that the funding for the Paoli Transit Center is likely to be used elsewhere

 I understand that Rep. Kampf does not want to increase taxes and is particularly concerned about what the increase in gas tax could mean to seniors, families, and small businesses that are already struggling. Kampf claims that the majority of the constituents who have contacted him do not support an increase in gas taxes to fund road, bridges and transit system improvements.  As one of his constituents, I disagree.  If he spoke to the 4,000 residents in the Great Valley, Chesterbrook and Glenhardie areas impacted by the PA Turnpike widening and sound wall project, I’m guessing that they too would encourage his support of the transportation funding bill.

With a reelection campaign ahead in 2014, is Kampf’s political calculus that the voters will punish him for supporting the transportation bill if it means raising the cost of gas.  In my opinion, it is more likely that the voters will punish him if he doesn’t support the bill, especially if it means the loss of the Paoli Transit Center and the PA Turnpike projects for Tredyffrin.

It’s difficult for elected officials to support a tax increase when they are not running for office – but when its election year, the task is all but impossible.  If Corbett does not have the proposed transportation funding bill on his desk in 2013, it seems unlikely that it will resurface in 2014 (election year).

The infrastructure in Pennsylvania is in trouble and our roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are not going to fix themselves – they need funding and the money has to come from somewhere.  The clock is running down for State lawmakers to maake a decision on transportation funding.

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