NEWS, SPORTS, COMMENTARY, POLITICS for Gloucester City and the Surrounding Areas of South Jersey and Philadelphia

Former Cherry Hill Director of Code Enforcement and Inspections Admits Taking Bribes
A Childhood 'Hell'

CNBNews Op-Ed: Here We Go Again

By Jack C. Sheppard Jr.

  Opedbanner Here we go again, another proponent of recreating passenger rail service on the old tracks south of Camden has just been heard from. This time it is yet another state agency no one ever heard of named the “Office of Smart Growth.” According to a recent article in the Gloucester County Times “ . . their job is to provide smart growth in a state that has a minimum amount of open space.” Where was this group when we needed them, before the excessive and rampant growth took place?

Apparently they have just become aware of the most recent of the studies by the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), and there have been many, that resulted in recommendations for passenger rail routes down the rights-of-way of routes 42 and 55 or on the old existing rails from Woodbury to Glassboro and possibly beyond.

Do you get the same sense as I do that these “studies” have been going on forever? Well, maybe not “forever” but certainly for a real long time. In fact there have been studies almost constantly since the first one by the Port Authority in 1936.

These studies have examined every inch of the existing old rail facilities south of Camden and the study by the DRPA in 1975 concluded with the statement that “Although a Glassboro Line alignment following the PRSL Millville Branch has been studied, this alignment has been proven inferior on the basis of capital costs and disruption to the local community.”

And now here we go again with yet another previously unheard of state agency, announcing they favor using the old rail route already “proven inferior” as noted above.

How many more taxpayer dollars have to be wasted studying the use of the old rail line route that if constructed, will not take people where they want to go and/or where they do go, which is not just to Camden or Philadelphia, but all over the region.

Expensive and detailed demographic statistics have proven the bulk of the people in our region do not travel to the Philadelphia and Camden downtowns. No, they work and shop and play in areas east and west of the existing rail and highway corridors in places such as the Cherry Hill, Moorestown, Echelon and Deptford Malls. They live in and travel to the residential areas that have sprung up in the suburbs, and to parks and playgrounds that are scattered throughout the tri-county region. They work in and visit the many industrial and office parks throughout the region.

These destinations cannot be reached by any existing or proposed rail facilities. Most can only be reached by private automobile or public motor transit.

Nowhere in former studies has more than lip service been given to the use of motor vehicles to get people to their preferred destinations. Yet the 1996 “MIS” study by the Delaware River Port Authority was very clear that in exchange for the billions of federal dollars any new facilities would cost, it would most certainly be required to comply with federal transportation regulations of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA). They require complete coordination between rail transit and bus service within a region as a requirement for federal funding.

In fact UMTA requires that all types of transportation be considered including heavy-rail rapid transit service, light rail transit systems, standard type bus service, as well as transportation service by demand activated bus systems, personal rapid transit systems and other alternative transport concepts even mentioning taxi services. Most of the more recent studies have been exceedingly weak concerning the use of alternative facilities. The state Office of Smart Growth apparently didn’t even give a second thought to alternative means of public transport.

Once again I am suggesting passenger rail in the medians of the north-south highways should not be considered the only solution to the overall transportation needs in the region. Especially when the projects being proposed carry cost estimates in the range of $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion (in 2006 dollars). Those are huge numbers.

Admittedly light rail in the centerlines of Route 42 and/or Route 55 could provide the common sense component of placing some form of public transportation facilities where the bulk of the population is located. However we should be studying the overall transportation needs of the region, and not just those of commuters to Camden and Philadelphia?

And for once and for all can we please get rid of the proposal to put trains back on the old tracks south of Woodbury. How many times do we have to be told “ . . . this alignment has been proven inferior on the basis of capital costs and disruption to the local community”?

Office of Smart Growth, go back and do some studying of the previous studies of which there have been many. And keep in mind the old adage, “If you forget the past, you are doomed to repeat your failures.”

(The author served on the Wenonah Borough Council from 1962 through 1990, the last 24 years as mayor. Headed up the sewerage regionalization of Gloucester County and cut the ribbon to start it up in 1973.  Headed the water regionalization effort being appointed by democrat freeholder director Jim Atkinson even though he has been a republican all of his adult life).