Exactly the kind of issue that would benefit from analysis and advocacy by the First Suburbs coalition is how PennDOT and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) set transportation funding priorities.
From their website: “The Southeastern Pennsylvania First Suburbs Project is a regional coalition of community leaders from developed suburbs that have joined together to harness their communities’ power by directly engaging citizens to affect policies and practices that will lead to the stabilization and revitalization of their communities.”
They’re holding the Building One Pennsylvania Summit tomorrow, Friday, July 16, 2010, 10:00am – 4:00pm (doors open at 9:00) at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, 750 E. King Street, Lancaster, PA.
I know a few Pottstown residents are going and I hope someone is going to officially represent the Borough.
In a recent presentation to Pottstown Borough Council, a representative of the DVRPC described how the funding for the repair/replacement of the historic Keim Street Bridge wouldn’t be available for approximately 6-8 more years, or completed for at least 10 years. See The Mercury’s video here. The issue was also discussed by Jeff Leflar on the Code Blue blog.
In the video, Council President Stephen Toroney notes that, ideally, the bridge would be re-aligned with Keim Street AND Keystone Boulevard would be extended to the Route 422 Stowe interchange, thus allowing Pottstown to be part of the 422 flow rather than cut off from it. Toroney rightly pointed out, “That’s the key to our Bethlehem Steel site. To get some businesses in there.” He asked about the possibility of fast-tracking and a public/private partnership to make those things happen. It wasn’t clear, due to the video editing, whether the DVRPC representative ever responded directly to those questions.
I would not let this go. And I don’t mean that in a confrontational way. I mean that there is a strong regional planning case to be made for addressing this root-cause, which is directly connected to jobs and fiscal stability, through recurring dialogue and a working relationship with these agencies specifically around this issue.
This problem is reminiscent of the ultimate effect on many of our nation’s cities of the Federal Highway Act of 1956, which funded the interstate highway system. Massive roadways and overpasses cut downtowns off from their rivers and diverted people, in their vehicles, away from city centers, opening up the countryside to housing and malls – what we now call “sprawl” – and leading to the disinvestment in urban cores.
On a smaller scale, that is what the current PennDOT/DVRPC transportation funding schedule perpetuates – the continued re-routing of traffic (and consumer dollars) around a town center/small city. This funding schedule, even if unintended, is in effect their public policy. It is a policy that, due to inadequate access for the movement of raw materials and finished goods, actually also hinders private sector economic development dollars from flowing into Pottstown.
For Pottstown’s former industrial sites ever to be re-used to their fullest, the newly formed Pottstown Partnership (which includes the County) will want to hit the ground running in talks with PennDOT and DVRPC to re-consider the current timeline on the Keim Street Bridge and to get the Keystone Boulevard extension on the table. The Partnership will also need to actively engage property owners, determining any clean-up and marketing strategies that will put these sites back in use. They are absolutely essential to Pottstown’s revitalization. None of these efforts toward the Pottstown Industrial Complex should be news. They are part of Goal #1 in the Action Plan of the Pottstown Economic Development Strategic Plan (March 2008).
There may be a history here (of inaction) such that funding agencies might be leery of directing resources where they’re skeptical about their ultimate benefit. Fair enough. That’s where the Borough – on its own and in the context of the Partnership – needs to step up and be pro-active with property owners, pro-active in seeking grants for brownfields redevelopment and putting together a package of other financing incentives, and leading the way in this kind of First Suburbs conversation.