How will extending SEPTA rail to King of Prussia benefit Norristown?
January 5, 2016
Alaina Mabaso, Flying Kite
Earlier this month, we took a look at a new report on the projected impact of SEPTA's proposed expansionof the Norristown High Speed Line to King of Prussia, the first direct rail service to this sprawling retail and business center. The "Connecting KOP" analysis -- a collaboration between SEPTA, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the non-profit Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Econsult Solutions, Inc. -- was about a year in the making.
The Economy League's Nick Frontino marvels over KOP's history: It was a quiet residential and farming community as recently as the 1970s. But an industrial park turned business complex and the famous Mall, a destination for shoppers throughout the region, turned the area into "the largest economic center in Greater Philadelphia," explains Frontino. "[But] it’s really limited in its infrastructure capacity, particularly its transportation capacity."
A look at the impact of direct rail to KOP isn't complete without acknowledging the potential effect on Norristown across the Schuylkill River.
"Norristown could stand to benefit from this investment as well," says Frontino. Despite being a city with "a great downtown core" and "great housing stock," many residents find quality local jobs just out of reach. Though KOP’s commercial powerhouse is just a few miles away from Norristown as the crow flies, "a lot of its residents have a hard time accessing economic opportunities today."
Those without a car who rely on current transit services often have to set aside up to 45 minutes each way for the commute. But an extended rail line could cut that trip down to as little as 15 minutes. This would really open up the door to economic opportunity in Norristown, as well as spurring increased demand in the residential market.
Practical next steps for the extension proposal, still in its draft environment impact statement phase, include SEPTA’s work with the Federal Transit Administration and local stakeholders. Each new draft of the statement will identify a tighter and tighter number of possible routes for the new rail. That number will drop from 40 prospective routes to 15, and then to five, and then a top locally preferred route, which will be the focus of a final environmental impact statement. Next come the engineering and design, contracts and construction -- the new rail likely wouldn’t be operational until at least 2023.