Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition
|Formation||August 15, 2009|
|Purpose||Passenger rail advocacy|
|Pennsylvania, Delaware Valley|
The Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition (PA-TEC) is a network of transit advocates who promote responsible investment in transit expansion. The organization's goal is to work with local transit organizations (SEPTA, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission [DVRPC]) to redirect limited transportation funding to investment in expanding rail-based transit in the Philadelphia area and other urban cores in Pennsylvania.
- 1 History and Activities
- 2 Notable Efforts
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
History and Activities
Founded in August 2009, PA-TEC was originally created to lobby for restored passenger train service on the SEPTA-owned Fox Chase-Newtown line, which last operated in January 1983. Since then, the organization has expanded its goals, which, according its website, "support capital investments in projects that do not contribute to suburban sprawl or perpetuate automobile dependency."
In 2011, PA-TEC moved away from being a single-issue organization and begun focusing on the poor application of capital funding at SEPTA on projects such as fences and bus loops, which consume millions in funding. PA-TEC states that capital funding needs to be reprioritized to projects that show quantifiable results such as increase in transit use or reduction in vehicle miles travelled.
At present, PA-TEC consists of a close network of advocates with no hierarchy. The organization publishes a monthly online newsletter detailing recent events and communications made with local politicians and townships in the region.
Newtown Branch efforts
The Newtown Branch Restoration project was chosen by PA-TEC based on current transit conditions in the northern Philadelphia suburbs, estimated project cost, ridership, and benefit to the served region. A significant amount of local interest from residents along the corridor also contributed to PA-TEC's efforts. Under current DVRPC and SEPTA policy, the needs of the Newtown Line have been deemed unimportant and not a priority.
DVRPC Right-to-Know Law ruling
On July 19, 2011, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) determined that Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) was covered under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) of 2008 and was therefore required to provide access to public records in its possession. DVRPC, in response to several requests for information from the PA-TEC, had previously argued that it was exempt, as it was a multi-state agency that did not perform essential function. The OOR overruled DVRPC's assessment, stating that the RTKL eliminated the requirement than an entity perform an essential governmental function in order to be considered an agency. The OOR had further determined that members of PA-TEC, despite repeated attempts to obtain information from DVRPC, had not engaged in disruptive behavior, which the DVRPC stated had “a chilling effect” on citizen participation because they involve e-mails exchanged with leaders of the RCC, who aren't employees of the commission."
The OOR ordered the DVRPC to comply with PA-TEC's request and release all documents the group has requested; DVPRC has 30 days from the date of the rulings to produce the documents or file an appeal.
The ruling has serious consequences concerning the workings of the DVRPC. Documents produced by the DVRPC are now presumed public, resulting in the commission only able to refuse the release documents under certain narrow exceptions spelled out in the RTKL. PlanPhilly.com has called the decision "a landmark ruling."
U.S. Route 422 Toll Proposal
In October 2011, PA-TEC developed a position outlining problems with DVRPC’s proposal to toll U.S. Route 422 to expand the highway and restore passenger rail service to Wyomissing, Pennsylvania (via a redesigned Schuylkill Valley Metro). On September 13, 2011, through an invitation by Pennsylvania House of Representatives member Mike Vereb, PA-TEC appeared at an open forum on the project where DVRPC Executive Director Barry Seymour was presenting. PA-TEC interacted with residents and presented an alternative plan to restore rail service between Reading and Philadelphia by Amtrak, operating either to Harrisburg via Hershey, or to Philadelphia via the International Airport, or to New York City. On October 5, 2011, under increasing pressure and opposition, DVRPC cancelled the tolling proposal and stated that the highway would be expanded under regular PennDOT programming instead.
Rejection of Security Measures for Preserving SEPTA-owned dormant railroad lines
In March 2011, PA-TEC requested that SEPTA consider demarking their four dormant railroad lines acting as rail trails with signage. PA-TEC was willing to work with the transit agency on this project, in hopes of maintain a high profile for the dormant rail corridors. Their request was based on a federal study completed by the National Transportation Research Board in 2007, which stated that such signage gives "notice to adjacent landowners and the public generally that an interim period of low-impact or recreational use does not proscribe future development of active passenger or freight rail activity. Provisions may include large, conspicuous signage along the trail alignments and/or disclosure requirements for adjoining property sale transactions that make clear the potential future use of the [rail] corridors in question."
SEPTA rejected PA-TEC's request, believing the benefits of such "signage was deemed non-existent, since SEPTA's rights to the out-of-service rights-of-way (ROW) are clearly protected as matters of real estate/railroad law, as well as the individual lease with the County. The same would apply to any other recreational trails presently being used by municipalities over SEPTA out-of-service railroad ROW's." SEPTA concluded that the expense of installing signs, "no matter how small, for the sole purpose of demarcating SEPTA's otherwise well established legal ownership rights in the ROW, cannot be financially justified." This position was echoed by Rina Cutler, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor of Transportation.
PA-TEC responded in the press by calling SEPTA's response "an act resembling Pontius Pilate", stating that SEPTA was "going against their enabling legislation per Pennsylvania State Law." PA-TEC added that SEPTA "has washed their hands of the (Fox Chase/Newtown) line by refusing to associate their name with it in public. Without any analysis, SEPTA has rejected a taxpayer funded federal study that provides specific recommendations that best preserve dormant railways."
The transit advocacy group added that they are "concerned that SEPTA is creating an additional constituency resistant to putting rails on a (SEPTA) owned ROW, in this case the trail users," concluding that "the trail use will create an additional avenue of resistance even for those who would never be trail users. NIMBYs... will be avid trail users, not for the sake of the trail, but to prevent rail use."
Additional expansion/preservation efforts
Other passenger rail expansion efforts PA-TEC has endorsed are listed as follows:
- Broad Street Subway (a.k.a. Orange Line) - Roosevelt Boulevard Extension
- Elwyn-Wawa extension
- West Chester Railroad
- Passenger/freight service on the Octararo Branch in Chester County (OATS)
- SEPTA Regional Rail
- Fox Chase/Newtown Line
- Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
- LEED for Neighborhood Development
- "Open records office: DVRPC covered under Right to Know Law". PlanPhilly.com (www.planphilly.com). August 3, 2011.
- Docket No.: AP 2011-0709; Open Records.State.PA.US
- Docket No.: AP 2011-0572; Open Records.State.PA.US
- Docket No.: AP 2011-0428; Open Records.State.PA.US
- "Team 4: Despite 'Right To Know' Law, Some Records Hard To Find". WTAE-TV (www.thepittsburghchannel.com). November 18, 2009.
- "Ruling puts Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission under Right to Know Law". http://www.newsworks.org/ (Shannon McDonald). August 4, 2011.
- PA-TEC 422 Corridor Transportation Improvements Proposal
- PA-TEC news: Sept 2011
- "Crowd gives 422 tolling plan unwelcome reception". The Mercury. September 13, 2011.
- "Report backs off 422 tolling plan". http://www.newsworks.org/ (Daily Local News). October 6, 2011.
- PA-TEC discussion SEPTA's rail trails
- Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service, p.4-5
- SEPTA Trail Signage letter
- SEPTA Legislation