Elizabeth “Liz” Smith, assistant treasurer of strategic initiatives at Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), attended the Chester County Planning Commission’s board meeting on Oct. 9 and discussed the role of her public transportation agency and its partnership with the county.
Smith said the biggest service that SEPTA has in Chester County is the Paoli-Thorndale Regional Rail service, which has 88 weekday trips and an average ridership of 19,600. SEPTA also offers eight bus routes in Chester County. View the Chester County Ride Guide.
SEPTA brings about $174 million in economic impacts to Chester County along with 1,300 jobs and $72 million in earnings, according to the SEPTA Drives the Economy of Pennsylvania report. The report also shows the economic impact SEPTA services have on homes located near train stations in Chester County based off an analysis done by Econsult, an economic research company. For example, about 10,000 homes are located within 3 miles of the Paoli Station, which brings about $712 million in economic impact to the area or $69,000 per home, according to the report.
SEPTA’s Fiscal Year 2020 capital budget was approved by the organization’s board in July. Some of the Chester County projects include real-time information upgrades, bus purchases, new bilevel vehicles, Phase 3 of the Frazer Rail Shop and Yard Upgrade, Phases 2 and 3 of the Exton Station, and Phase 2 of the Paoli Station.
Smith also discussed the new upgrades to the Paoli Station, which was a $48 million investment and a partnership among SEPTA, Amtrak, PennDOT, and Chester County. Future work to this station includes the Darby Road realignment and parking garage and bus facilities.
The Exton Station improvements were a $25 million investment that included high level platforms, a station building, and upgrades to rail infrastructure designed to make the station compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to Smith. Future work includes bus facilities and a parking garage.
The Frazer Yard project was a $139 million investment that was deemed necessary for new locomotives and bilevel vehicles, Smith said.
Smith also discussed the Elwyn to Middletown Restoration in neighboring Delaware County, which is a $193 million investment that will extend the current service by 3 miles. This project will include a 600-plus space parking garage and new station facility. It is currently under construction with a scheduled completion in 2021.
While discussing these projects, Chester County Planning Commission Board Member Molly Morrison asked if SEPTA will be trying to find additional parking for people who use the rail service in areas of Chester County. She said she’s had difficulty finding parking spaces at the Exton and Frazer stations in the past.
Smith said SEPTA understands that concern and is monitoring it.
“Unfortunately, it’s expensive to build additional parking because those areas (around our stations) are so constrained,” she said.
Another way SEPTA is hoping to address parking concerns near trains is through encouraging Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which is a mixed use, walkable neighborhood located within a quarter mile of a transit stop or station and is designed to encourage the use of public transit. TOD frees up parking spaces and provides more walkability options for residents. View more information about TOD in Planning Commission’s
Commercial Landscapes Planning Series.
Back in March, SEPTA and the Chester County Commissioners announced an agreement to bring back regional rail service to the City of Coatesville that ceased operations in 1996. The proposed new service will extend SEPTA train operations beyond the current terminus in Thorndale to a new station in Coatesville.
The design for the new Coatesville Train Station is well underway and PennDOT is anticipating that the station project will be completed within three years of the start of construction, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2020, according to city and county officials. The schedule to restore service will be tied to completion of the new Coatesville Train Station as well as delivery of SEPTA bilevel train cars, according to Smith.
During that announcement in March, Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone, and Terence Farrell stated they would help kick-start the train station parking garage construction with an investment of $1 million. The $500,000 Community Revitalization Program grant that the commissioners announced this summer is the first part of that $1 million commitment from the county, according to Chester County Department of Community Development Director Pat Bokovitz.
“It’s exciting to see good things happening in Coatesville again,” Smith said.
Smith also discussed the East Whiteland Station Feasibility Study that was led by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. Two potential station sites were studied for this project and it was determined that there would be high costs—close to $120 million—associated with both options, according to Smith.
“Is it feasible? Yes. Do we have a concept plan? Yes. Can we put it in (SEPTA’s) current capital budget? No,” said Smith.
SEPTA is also assisting the Borough of Phoenixville with a proposal to run trains between Phoenixville and Center City via the Norfolk Southern tracks and the SEPTA Norristown line. The borough has proposed funding this through Tax Increment Financing around proposed stations, Smith said. She said there would be about $175 million in capital costs associated with this project because the borough would need to purchase additional trains. She said there is no funding available but SEPTA is supportive of the borough’s efforts to make it a reality.
Chester County Planning Commission Executive Director Brian O’Leary echoed those sentiments of supporting Phoenixville’s efforts. He said he’s been encouraging the borough to complete necessary planning work.
Finally, SEPTA is embarking on a bus network project that will look at the region’s current network and determine necessary changes. This new project will help connect more people to more places in the region, Smith said.
Chester County currently has eight bus routes but could have more after this process, according to Smith. This initiative will be heavily influenced by outreach and conversations with customers and committees will be formed in late 2019 and early 2020.
“It’s crucial everyone has a voice,” she said.
O’Leary thanked Smith for coming to the Planning Commission’s meeting and called SEPTA a “great partner” to the county. He said the organization plays a critical role in all transportation planning.