The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), which runs the PATCO service from suburban New Jersey into Center City Philadelphia, will pursue the construction of a surface light rail line along Market Street with connections to new waterfront service. The project would be the city’s first serious transit expansion in years, though it currently lacks the funds to build the project. The line would cost more than $1 billion to build and be finished in ten years.
DRPA’s involvement in the project reflects on SEPTA‘s inability to produce significant transit expansions in the Philadelphia region, which is desperately in need of new services. The waterfront orientation of the project is a justification for DRPA, but the truth is that these new lines, which will act as continuations of the existing subway-service Green Lines, probably should be managed and built by SEPTA, which is supposed to be the overall transit agency for Philadelphia.
Nevertheless, the project as currently planned would be an exciting generator of development along the waterfront, which has seen a large amount of new construction in recent years. The northern area of the line, while just blocks from the Market-Frankford El, is separated from that corridor by the vast expanse of underutilized space surrounding Interstate 95. The southern portion is currently even more isolated, almost a mile from the Broad Street Subway and also cut off by 95. So there is certainly a need for a new service, especially one that would shoot straight downtown as would this one.
The surface-running trains on Market Street could be an incentive as well for locals to make their way over to the waterfront, since the transit service will be visible and convenient. One can imagine the section between City Hall and the Old City becoming an tourist trap.
Yet, as is typical with projects such as these, DRPA needs to find the money to build the project. PATCO has already committed to a long new line extending south from Camden to Glassboro. Meanwhile, neither Philadelphia or Pennsylvania have the necessary funds sitting around. So this proposal is a long way off.
Image above: Philadelphia waterfront transit alternatives, from DRPA