Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Ardmore Transit Center

“Train Station Project Advancing Quickly” — and NO, it’s not Paoli!

I saw this headline in Sunday’s edition of the Daily Local “Train station project advancing quickly”. No, the author was not referring to the Paoli Transportation Center or the Ardmore Transit projects. Was it the Downingtown or Parkesburg train station projects that was advancing?

No, . . . the “advancing” train project was the Coatesville Train Station! According to PennDOT rep Bob Garrett, the train station at Coatesville is officially “ahead of projects in Parkesburg and Downingtown after a few months of hard work”. (No mention made of Paoli Transportation project . . . does PennDOT even know it exists!)

Interesting to note that the Coatesville train station has $16 million in secured funding from state and federal sources for a new train station, pedestrian cross-over and street-scaping. Plus an additional $1.3 million in federal funds to rehab the old station even though there’s no firm use for it.

Remember how excited some of us in the community got about the $1 million funding to the Paoli Transportation Center project, and that was 1-1/2 years ago. I am mystified as to how these other train projects move along through the system and our train project just seems to be quick mired for years and years. When I read that Coatesville gets state and federal funding after a “few months of hard work” . . . you just have to shake your head and wonder don’t you? Doesn’t anyone care about the Paoli transportation project? We know that there is a finite amount of state dollars (and federal dollars) for transportation projects and obviously, no credence is given to ‘time already spent on the list’.

Apparently, the Coatesville train station is not very busy – only 8 trains per day stop at this station! The current Coatesville train station suffers from low ridership and doesn’t have any Amtrak amenities or a place to buy tickets. The idea is that by revitalizing Coatesville and the train station area and adding more stops commuter traffic will increase on the rails.

So again I ask, what about Paoli train station — where are its advocates? There are elected officials pushing Coatesville and Downingtown train station projects; who is really behind Paoli?


Why Does Downingtown Need a ‘New’ Train Station . . . Current station is less than 20 years old! What about Assistance for Train Station Projects already started . . . Ardmore? Paoli?

I was surprised by this headline in the Daily Local, ‘State to consider new Downingtown train station’ – What? How about helping the Ardmore Transit Center project or our own Paoli Transportation Center?

According to the article, Bob Garrett, representative from the PA Dept of Transportation presented information to the Downingtown Borough Council that a state-funded study ($200K) will get underway shortly to look for a new site for their train station. What’s wrong with their current train station?

This makes no sense to me for several reasons. First off, how is it possible that less than 2 weeks since passing the state budget, (with major cuts to education and human services) there is money to move the location of Downingtown train station? I researched the current train station in Downingtown and discovered the station is less than 20 years old! The 19th century train station in Downingtown burned down in the early 1990s and was rebuilt sometime prior to 2000. So why does the state think that Downingtown needs a new station and a new location? Apparently, the current station needs more parking and the renovation of the present platform will not allow for sufficient handicap accessibility.

I checked and the Downingtown train station has 213 parking spaces. I believe that like Paoli, Downingtown serves as both a SEPTA and Amtrak station. However, unlike Paoli, only select trains on the Paoli/Thorndale (R5) actually go to the Downingtown train station. The daily passenger traffic at Paoli train station is almost 3 times that of the Downingtown train station. According to a FY2010 Amtrak fact sheet, Paoli daily traffic is 155,000 passengers versus 59,000 passengers at Downingtown train station. Based on the level of passenger traffic, additional parking needs, building improvement, etc. why is the focus not on the Paoli Transportation Center but on moving the location of the Downingtown train station. The redevelopment plans for the Paoli Transportation Center have been in the works for years, whereas the Downingtown train station project appears to be the new kid on the block.

According to Garrett, the state wants to improve the train stations from Philadelphia to Harrisburg in hopes of increasing ridership. This expensive study is to decide where in Downingtown to put the new train station. As an aside, I found it interesting that the Dept of Transportation is without a ‘plan’ of what to do with the old Downingtown train station property once they move the location and build a new station.

My question to the Dept of Transportation is why not finish the train station projects already underway before starting a new one . . . like the Ardmore Transit Center and our own Paoli Transportation Center? When asked how much this project would cost, Garrett was not sure but a renovation at the Elizabethtown train station was $12.5 million. Garrett offered that the state would help with the funding of the train station project in Downingtown.

Online I found a ‘Transportation Funding Crisis’ document which lists the public transportation projects for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District-6 which includes Philadelphia, Chester, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The comprehensive list of transportation projects includes Ardmore and Paoli transportation centers, but no listing whatsoever for the Downingtown train station project. To be fair, there is no date on the Dept. of Transportation document so it may be a year or two old. We know that the state has a finite amount of money for transportation projects, so why add a new project when there is an established list of train station projects already approved? Should there not be a priority to state funding for existing projects?

I would like an update on the Paoli Transportation Center . . . it seems as if the project is in limbo. Where exactly does the project stand? If the answer is, there is ‘no money’, than I think we need to contact Bob Garrett at the PA Department of Transportation office. Obviously if the state is willing to fund the purchase of property and the building of a new train station in Downingtown, that has one-third the level of daily traffic as the Paoli train station, this community is missing out!

What about Paoli Transportation Center — why can’t we get help? Who to contact — Township supervisors . . . State Rep Kampf . . . Senator Dinniman?


I want to mention an op-ed article written by Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello titled, ‘We Must Address Transportation Needs’. As Costello says, “We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the inevitable and ignore the fact that our aging infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and enhancements . . . “

Federal assistance is no longer available for the state’s critical infrastructure needs; help needs to come from Harrisburg.

If Ardmore Transit Center can be built without a new Train Station, could Paoli Transportation Center suffer the same fate?

Question for the Day: Where do you build a new transit center without building the new train station?

Answer: Apparently in Ardmore.

According to an article by Cheryl Allison in yesterday’s Main Line Times, the latest plan presented for the Ardmore Transit Center includes parking garage, luxury apartments, restaurants and retail shops but no new train station . . . at least not until there is additional public funding.

The Ardmore Transit Center developer, Carl Dranoff of Dranoff Properties presented his newest plan last week to a subcommittee of Lower Merion Board of Commissioners. Due to $35 million funding gap on the original transit center plan, Dranoff scaled back his Ardmore Station redevelopment project, and presented his new ‘phased’ approach, which calls for adding a new train station at a later date.

I thought that the impetus for the Ardmore Transit Center project was a new train station. The project received government funding based on that concept so how is it possible to exclude the train station in the initial phase. Dranoff thinks that with the addition of private funding to existing public money construction on this $60 million scaled-back phase could start by next year. The new plan calls for adding the train station when additional public funding becomes available in the future. I must be missing something, isn’t this the ‘cart before the horse’? Shouldn’t the project, the ‘transit’ project, start with the new train station ‘first’ and then add the other components to the train station instead of the other way around?

In addition to deleting a new train station in the initial phase of the Ardmore Transit Center project, the plan includes a dramatic reduction in parking, from 500 spaces to 270 spaces. We know availability of parking is a long-standing problem in Ardmore; will the reduced parking be adequate?

Do not get me wrong, I think that creating a new ‘Main Street’ development concept in Ardmore will revitalize the community and do much for the local business community. However, how do they rationalize the government money that has already been used in the development phase of the plan, if the project no longer includes the train station component? Dranoff’s new phased plan calls for a facelift to the existing Ardmore train station, but little else.

In the past, I have drawn comparisons between the proposed Ardmore Transit Center and the Paoli Transportation Center projects. Looking at Dranoff’s new phase approach to the proposed transit center, I for one would not be pleased if the Paoli Transportation Center took the same direction in its development.

A new train station needs to be the focal point of Paoli’s redevelopment plan; the starting point of the project. Parking, retail, restaurants and office buildings should all be part of the overall concept of the Paoli Transportation Center but as far as I am concerned, without a new train station, there should be no Paoli Transportation Center project.

Speaking of Paoli Transportation Center . . . where do we stand with that project?

Prior posts on Ardmore Transit Center & Paoli Transportation Center:

Septa pulls 10 million in financial assistance from Ardmore Train Station Project, what does this mean for Paoli Transportation Center?

Will Ardmore Transit Centers funding issues impact the future of Paoli Transportation Center?

SEPTA Pulls $10 Million in Financial Assistance from Ardmore Train Station Project . . . what does this mean for Paoli Transportation Center?

SEPTA announced that due to insufficient funding from Washington they would be forced to cut $110 million from its capital budget starting July 1. Back in June, I compared the financing and future of the Ardmore Train Station redevelopment project and the Paoli Transportation project. (see Will Ardmore Transit’s Funding Issues Impact the Future of Paoli Transportation Center?) At that time, the developer Dranoff Properties and Lower Merion officials were concerned but optimistic that the money troubles would be resolved and that the project would continue to move forward.

However, it looks like the difficult economic times continue to rear its ugly head. This week, SEPTA announced their 2011 budget decision to remove $10 million in capital fund assistance from the Ardmore Train Station project. This latest negative news is leaving the future unknown for the Ardmore redevelopment project. As recently as this past August, Lower Merion received a $9 million RACP (Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project) grant from Gov. Rendell towards Ardmore’s $35.65 million project.

If you recall, Ardmore’s redevelopment project is much more than simply improvement to the train station. The project calls for the design of a new mini-main street, including new apartments, restaurants, township building, and large parking garage, in addition to a new train station. It appears that some Lower Merion officials are dragging their feet about continued support for the proposed plan as originally presented. In light of the difficult economic situation and SEPTA’s recent decision maybe the key to keeping the project going forward is a scaled-back version of the original plan, and a specific focus on the train station only? Just an idea, don’t know if that makes sense to the overall design.

Following on the heels of SEPTA’s depressing news, Carla from Save Ardmore Coalition has presented a positive, upbeat message of support for Ardmore and its business community. Taking a ‘lemon’ of a situation and making lemonade – is the “Discover More in Ardmore” campaign; and just in time for the holidays! I received the following message from Carla . . . one of hope and encouragement!

We believe in Ardmore….not the what ifs of maybe, eventually, possibly redevelopment plans, but the Ardmore of the present.

We love our shops and our residents and our little friendly Main Street.This week you may see our ad in Main Line Times in the gift guide, on Monday our shopping bags done in partnership with Ardmore Business Association are set to arrive at Suburban Office.

Our “Discover More in Ardmore” campaign also goes kind of “support Ardmore” viral today – we have purchased signs at train stations station and they are going up today. We have one sign at each of the following 5 train stations – Paoli, Wayne, Bryn Mawr, Ardmore and Narberth. We hope all get the message:

Discover More in Ardmore.

We believe.

I noted that Governor Rendell’s proposed additional $1 billion in bonded debt has been countered and reduced to $650 million by State Treasurer Rob McCord. This new debit was earmarked for Commonwealth projects already in progress or that the state had contractually agreed to complete. I don’t know if this money would directly impact the Ardmore redevelopment project.

This discussion of SEPTA’s cut to the Ardmore Train Station project does call in to question what the future holds for the Paoli Transportation Center. Has our transportation project been relegated permanently to the back burner of discussion? Wonder how the new administration in Harrisburg will look at these transportation project? With support . . . ?

Will Ardmore Transit Center’s Funding Issues Impact the Future of Paoli Transportation Center?

The $180 million Ardmore Transit Center planned for downtown Ardmore shares many similarities with the vision many are planning for the Paoli Transportation Center. Ardmore’s downtown facelift is to include replacing the existing train station plus a new Main Street area with 500-car parking garage, stores and a five-story apartment building. The project is set to completely revitalize the historic community of Ardmore by the creation of a new mixed-use village much like what is planned for Paoli.

The developer for the Ardmore project, Dranoff Properties of Philadelphia is asking Lower Merion Commissioners for a one-year extension claiming design issues with Amtrak. In December, Dranoff learned that Amtrak will be upgrading its electrification system in 10 years and the overhead power lines needs to be factored in to the planned design; resulting in at least a 6 months delay. Dranoff’s extension request will be discussed at Lower Merion’s next commissioner meeting. However, residents are learning that there is more than design delays, there are money problems due to SEPTA. If you recall, SEPTA had made a big publicity splash with its announcement of 22 capital projects. However, now SEPTA is saying these projects may have to wait indefinitely. SEPTA’s contribution to the Ardmore Transit Center was to be $10 million – SEPTA’s general manager Joseph Casey is blaming Washington, pointing the finger at the federal government’s decision not to add tolls to Pennsylvania’s I-80.

The Ardmore Transit Center has been bogged down by one problem or another since the project originally launched in 2004 with a federal grant. Just 2 years ago, the original developer pulled out of the project and was replaced by Dranoff Properties. Last year, Carl Dranoff of Dranoff Properties and township commissioners said they were counting on $5.8 million from the Federal Transit Administration, $6 million in state funding for the 500-car parking garage, $10 million from SEPTA, and $250,000 from Montgomery County.

This past Friday, St. Joseph’s University hosted a state House transportation and policy meeting where SEPTA’s general manager revealed that insufficient funding from Washington was forcing SEPTA to cut $110 million from its capital budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Although extremely frustrating, Dranoff and Lower Merion officials appear to be optimistic that their money troubles will be resolved and that project will go forward. Or is this going to be another sign of the economics of our times where we see major projects such as infrastructure repairs on roads and bridges, transportation centers, etc. all put on indefinite ‘hold’?

Hearing the news on the Ardmore Transit Center project, Rep Jim Gerlach (R) responded, “. . . I am becoming increasingly concerned that continuing delays will ultimately threaten the federal funds I have already worked to obtain. Rather than asking for more delays, the residents and taxpayers deserve a redoubling of efforts by all parties – Amtrak, SEPTA, the township, and the developer – to get this project done as expeditiously as possible.”

So what exactly does this news mean for the Paoli Transportation Center? SEPTA forced to cut their capital budget by $110 million, doesn’t that impact the future of our economic revitalization project in Paoli? Since Ardmore started their transportation center project before Paoli, it would seem that their project is ahead of us for SEPTA, state and federal funding.

I would like for State Rep Paul Drucker to weigh in on the status of funding for Paoli’s transportation center. As the developer for the Paoli Transportation Center, maybe Peter Monaghan of Strategic Realty Investments could comment as to whether he thinks Ardmore’s funding situation with their transit center will have an impact on Paoli’s redevelopment project.

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