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DRPA Votes To Support Key Transit-Related Investments In NJ And PA
The Delaware River Port Authority at its February 18, 2009 board meeting voted to approve $11 million in economic development grants that will fund key transit-related projects aimed at enhancing the region and boosting DRPA bridge and rail traffic.
The DRPA grants focus on infrastructure improvements at sites on both sides of the Delaware that are designed to boost traffic on DRPA’s bridges as well as ridership on the PATCO High Speed Line, which is owned and operated by the DRPA. In addition, the grants provide funding support for significant historical, healthcare, public access and tourism-related initiatives that are also expected to increase bridge and rail trips in the coming months.
“These grants represent targeted strategic investments that are vital to the future of our region and our transit system,” said John H. Estey, DRPA Chairman Designee. “Not only do they foster an improved quality of life in our host communities, they are investments in projects that will generate economic growth.”
Included among the economic development projects that earned DRPA support are the following:
- A grant of $2 million for the demolition of the long-neglected Parkade Building and infrastructure and capital improvements in the vicinity of PATCO’s City Hall Station. This initiative is a key part of the DRPA’s transit-oriented development plan, which promotes transit ridership as well as economic and community development. An average of 4,750 riders a week use the PATCO City Hall station, including city and county employees and Rutgers, Rowan and Camden County College students;
- A grant of $1.5 million for site acquisition, demolition, relocation and other ancillary capital costs associated with the development of a new research campus for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which will be located in the vicinity of PATCO’s City Hall and Broadway stations. The new facility is an important part of the revitalization of downtown Camden, and a major element of the DRPA’s transit-oriented development plan. DRPA anticipates that the UMDNJ research facility will significantly impact ridership on the High Speed Line, which averages 13,100 riders a week at the Broadway station in addition to the 4,750 riders who use the City Hall station;
- A grant of $1.5 million to support needed infrastructure improvements along the Gateway Corridor in the vicinity of Admiral Wilson Boulevard and the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. These road and sewer and water improvements will assist in attracting businesses to the planned Gateway Office Park, anchored by Campbell Soup World Headquarters, which is undergoing a $90 million expansion and renovation.
- Funding support totaling $3.5 million to enable the completion of the President’s House, an historic excavation that preserves the slave quarters at the site of the house occupied by President George Washington in the late 18th century. This site, literally located in the shadow of the Liberty Bell, represents perhaps the most important historic development of the last 50 years in Philadelphia. Experts hope to finish the site and dedicate the exhibit on Independence Day 2009. In addition to its unquestioned historical value, the site also promises to generate significant new tourism-related trips to Independence Mall, many of which may be expected to arrive from New Jersey and other states via DRPA bridges or on PATCO trains. As a point of reference, more than 300,000 spectators visited the site during the initial excavation that occurred in the summer of 2007;
- Improvements within Franklin Square, located at the eastern end of the expanding Historic District, as well as funding for technology updates to the Lights of Liberty Show that attracts thousands of visitors each season to the District. Funding for these improvements totals $2.5 million;
- Funding support for the annual Army-Navy Game. Under a five-year contract signed in 2004, DRPA committed annual funding of $250,000 a year to secure Philadelphia as the continued site of this nationally-recognized contest between the service academies that draws an estimated 50,000 visitors to the region.
The DRPA grants are funded from the remaining proceeds of several economic development bond issues that provided approximately $380 million for economic development purposes pursuant to DRPA charter amendments that authorized and encouraged the Authority to engage in economic development activity as an “essential government function.” Approximately $340 million of these bond proceeds were utilized between 1999 and 2003.
More recently, in October 2008, the DRPA’s board authorized the issuance of new revenue bonds, in an amount not to exceed $510 million, in order to fund the initial portion of its $1.1 billion five-year capital plan. The plan includes necessary capital improvements to the four DRPA bridges, repairs and upgrades for bridge roadways, facility security, and modernization of the aging PATCO High Speed Line fleet of 120 rail cars. DRPA has committed that none of the funds from the September 2008 toll and fare increase or future toll increases will be used for economic development purposes, and today’s award includes no funds from that source.
“Economic development has been an important part of the DRPA’s mission because it benefits communities on both sides of the River while at the same time generating additional toll and transit revenues for the DRPA,” said Jeffrey L. Nash, DRPA Vice Chairman. “While the DRPA has dramatically reduced the number and size of its economic development grants in recent years, the Authority’s action today continues its support for targeted and transit-related investments that will benefit the Greater Philadelphia region both now and over the long term.”
The DRPA board heard testimony from 20 members of the public who attended the meeting. Ten expressed support for the current economic development grants, seven testified against the grants and three voiced opposition to grants that had been awarded previously.
Comments ranged from calling on the DRPA to fund only infrastructure needs to praise for the DRPA’s economic development grants, including funding for the President’s House.
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