Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From the Morning Call:

Plan could bring commuter rail to Lehigh Valley in five years

Link to NJ Transit: Bridge panel would use millions in toll money to pay for it.
By Matt Assad Of The Morning Call
October 14, 2008

A plan to bring passenger railroads into the Lehigh Valley would tap the millions of dollars that motorists pay in Delaware River bridge tolls to fund a $100 million line that would link Easton to NJ Transit trains.

Talks to have the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission pay to extend a line 20 miles west from High Bridge, N.J., began two years ago and have been re-energized by high gasoline prices and highway congestion.

Such a deal would mean trains could be running into Easton in as little as five years, helping regional planners avoid what could otherwise be a 10- to 20-year wait to get enough federal funding.

But for now, the plan remains a concept awaiting the blessing of the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said bridge commission Chairman David R. DeGerolamo.

''The frustrating thing is if we had done this two years ago, when I first suggested it, we'd be close to having trains running,'' said DeGerolamo, who is also a Phillipsburg councilman. ''Now it's sort of in a holding pattern until we get some kind of direction from the governors. It's too bad, because I think we missed an opportunity.''

Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, said Rendell supports establishing the line into the Valley and the bridge commission is free to fund the construction if it chooses, but said the costs of running the railroad must also be considered.

''It's unquestionably a worthwhile project,'' Ardo said. ''No one has specifically approached the governor about it, but even if they do, funding is going to be an issue, not only for construction, but for ongoing operations.''

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's office did not comment.

If the commission had approved floating $100 million in bonds as DeGerolamo requested, it would have had to determine whether it could repay them through existing tolls, increased tolls or by adding tolls to one of its 13 free bridges. That's still the case.

The issue of extending NJ Transit into the Lehigh Valley resurfaced in recent months, as Valley highways became more crowded with people commuting to New York City and New Jersey and gas prices rose to more than $4 a gallon.

Lehigh and Northampton counties along with the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. have together committed $250,000 to pay for a study of what it would cost to extend the NJ Transit line through the Valley and what it would cost to operate.

But Paul Marin, a former Wall Street money manager now living in Allentown, says the line would be a small piece of a statewide rail network that he's been advocating throughout the region.

He's spent the past two months meeting with officials, including Pennsylvania Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonsky and Transportation Secretary Allen D. Bieler. Last week, he made his plea during the annual Pennsylvania Planning Partners Conference in Canonsburg, Washington County.

''If we can build a statewide rail plan, then we are eligible for billions of dollars in federal money,'' Marin said. ''Locally, the toll bridge commission is an option that could have trains running within four years after floating the bonds. That would be ideal.

To continue reading the article :


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

URGENT: Some Lehigh County Commissioners Threaten cuts to Rail Funding

New Cuts Proposed by
Some Lehigh County Commissioners
Yes, This meeting is being held the SAME TIME as the Northhampton Meeting:
Thursday October 2, at 6PM:

Lehigh County Executive Government Center
17 S. 7th St.Allentown, PA 18101

Don Cunningham, County Executive, and a supporter of our cause, urges us to attend the meeting to support his proposed budget. His budget is rail friendly and balances the books without any tax increases. Yet some commissioners have threatened to cut rail funding!!

Don Cunningham:

"Some or all of the funding proposed in my 2009 budget related to your organization and/or initiative in which we are partnered or you have expressed interest has been targeted for reduction or elimination in a motion introduced by a county commissioner. "

This Thursday (10/2), the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners will hold its final 2009 budget hearing at 6 p.m. in the County Government Center at 7th and Hamilton Streets in Allentown. The board will consider millions of dollars of proposed funding cuts to the following areas:

  • Passenger rail study/mass transit funding
  • Regional economic development funding
  • Quality of Life grants to more than 20 cultural arts and community organizations
  • Farmland preservation
  • Open space preservation
  • Borough revitalization funding
  • Community partnership grants for townships
  • Community police matching grants
  • Urban parks funding
  • Brownfield/industrial land economic development

Don Cunningham continues:

"My proposed 2009 budget is a modest 1.1 percent higher than this year's budget. It contains NO tax increase and continues a balanced investment in the operations of Lehigh County government while supporting our community partnerships, our downtowns, public safety, our cultural arts institutions and community events, regional efforts across municipalities, mass transit and passenger rail development, preservation of open space and farmland and the development of urbanparks. "

"Proposals will be considered and voted upon Thursday that would alter that agenda and affect our partnerships and/or funding. That should not occur without you having a voice in the matter. You may want to attend this important meeting to represent the interests of your group or initiative. "

For more information on the proposed funding cuts, please contact the County Executive Office at 610-782-3001 or the County Commissioner Office at 610-782-3050.