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US 422 Corridor Master Plan

August 17, 2010

Earlier today, Andrew Kefer posted the following question under the post, “Beyond the Borough’s Borders – Part 2.”

“I was wondering if you can comment on the news of Borough Council’s voting of 5-2 against the comprehensive plan to improve US 422 and restore commuter rail service in the Schuylkill Valley?”

I replied that I wasn’t up to speed on that, but I’d find the study/plan and get back to him. So, here we go.

Caveat: I wasn’t at any of the meetings where the Plan was presented by Montgomery County planners, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission planners or consultants, so this first pass comes from online material. I’m glad to share the official information and resources provided by the 422PLUS Steering Committee at their website, which is separate from any of the involved agencies’ websites. They are obviously making an effort to keep the public informed at one central location and with a clear, unified message.

Here’s the upshot of the US 422 Corridor Master Plan from their website:
“Deteriorating travel conditions, sprawling and uncoordinated land develop[ment] patterns, and limited funding for transportation improvements plague the 422 Corridor. The Master Plan identifies 10 strategies for managing growth, development, and travel demands, and illustrates a “Sustainable Scenario” that encourages more compact development, maintenance of open space, and more mobility choice within the 422 Corridor.”

Basically, the plan incorporates the most up-to-date thinking about how to influence and control development patterns so we can stop gobbling up open space, start re-using existing town centers and more urbanized areas like Pottstown, and give people more travel choices than just their cars.

And then they go and steal some of my thunder for the build-up and grand conclusion of my planning series! But, hey, they say – and illustrate – it much better than I ever could. Check out their “Sustainability Strategies” brochure specifically for Pottstown. Everyone should become very familiar with this brochure, especially if you can’t make it through the entire Master Plan. And please, please check out the Strategies and Assets & Opportunities/Key Recommendations near the end of the brochure. This brochure just made it into my final line-up of VERY IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS CONCERNING POTTSTOWN’S FUTURE, along with the recent ULI Report and the 2008 Economic Development Strategic Plan.

In the 422PLUS Project section, the website provides info. about further study that will take place regarding the funding strategies for improving the 422 Corridor and possibly extending passenger rail service using existing freight lines. This is a follow-up study to two studies already completed in 2009: the US 422 Master Plan and the R6 Norristown Service Line Extension Study. No one’s being the least bit impetuous here. This is being studied, people are being surveyed and then they’re studying it again. This is what the planning process looks like.

Regarding the tolling issue: As we all know, funding is being slashed left and right. These agencies & planning bodies have to find money somewhere. While no one wants to hear about raising the cost of anything, frankly, the idea of having users pay for the maintenance and upgrading of roads they travel on just makes sense. I’ve sat in traffic on 422 going west plenty of times. I don’t live in the area, but if I’m using the road for frequent visits, shouldn’t I also contribute to its upkeep? Hitting up my EZPass is a simple, sensible solution.

And if some of that money goes toward making some existing freight tracks suitable for passenger rail (which people would have to purchase tickets to use), all the better.

And if there’s money for planning/constructing a passenger rail station in Pottstown, that’s the best yet.

If people don’t want to sit in traffic and don’t want to pay tolls, maybe they will want to live in a place like Pottstown (with its lively arts scene, new housing on the Mrs. Smith’s site, massive, beautiful single-family Victorians, cool restaurants and shops) and get to work by hopping on the train with their cappuccino from Churchill’s every morning. In fact, maybe fewer people would be commuting at all because Pottstown would become a place where larger corporations would want to locate and their employees might be able to get to work without even getting into a train or a car.

Andrew also asked if Pottstown’s vote would kill the project. Not at all. “Even Keel” described it pretty well in a comment on The Mercury article: “This plan will still be adopted and put into effect as there are 23 other municipalities who have a say. A majority of these will support it, or parts of it, and it will be adopted in some form at the County level. It will still have a benefit to Pottstown when adopted.”

Just look at the brochure for Pottstown. I know it must seem like an alternate reality – in a way, it is. But it doesn’t have to be. All these agencies and governmental entities want this to happen. They are asking Pottstown to join other towns, counties, planners and the business community, to participate, to make small area master plans (around a train station for instance), and to be an advocate for this and other regional efforts… that will benefit Pottstown. This is the kind of thing I’ve been talking about. Pottstown can and should be a part of this. Pottstown can do this.

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9 Comments
  1. August 18, 2010 11:14 am

    I don’t necessarily agree with your assessments, Sue. First, tolling. If I thought that by tolling that the daily mile after mile rush hour backup would go away I would support it. But since it would not, I am not paying to sit in a parking lot every day. Thats adding insult to injury.

    Rail seems like all the rage to cure the ills. It isn’t. If I hop on the train every morning that makes a half dozen stops before I get to King of Prussia I have not gained time. And once I get off the train how am I getting to my job 3 miles from the train station?

    Employers won’t move here just because there is a train here. They will still need to move goods in and out of this town and the choice is 1 or 2 merge-or-die on ramps to the highway, a falling down Kiem St. bridge and Keystone Blvd which could connect to the Stowe interchange but does not, and is not even on any planners list of projects.

    I am generally opposed to any tax increase ever on anything but backed into a corner I would say that an additional 3 cents a gallon would not even really be noticed since the price fluctuates constantly as it goes up.

    By the way, there is not one public transit system ever that has paid for itself. They are all subsidized by taxpayers. Thomas the Commuter Train from Philly out would be no different.

    • August 18, 2010 11:50 am

      Everyone has their price-point, Jeff. Some people will change their habits based on tolling. Maybe they will carpool. Maybe they will take public transit because you could safely catch up on email, text and talk on the phone. Sitting in the 422 parking lot, but having someone else do the driving – as could happen with bus transit – is another possibility. These new Bolt buses, with Wi-Fi, are cheap and comfortable (according to my older son & his college friends.) You can reserve a seat. Looks like they’re running between Cherry Hill and Philly (in addition to major cities up and down the east coast.) Maybe they could run a route on 422? They pick up and drop off at generally convenient locations, and don’t have their own terminals or stations. Somebody needs to give them a call.

      Short of a helicopter, no, you won’t necessarily gain time with any commuting method, but you could gain productive time as opposed to high blood pressure time.

      A no-tax guy talking about a gas tax, imposed on everyone – in the region, in the state? – to improve 422? Yikes! I just don’t see it. You can come out of that corner now 🙂

      Regarding the Keim St. bridge and Keystone Blvd.: Pottstown is barely in the regional transportation conversation. How does it expect its needs to be met when it does not even participate?

      Speaking of which… do you know what the bicycle/pedestrian promenade linking the downtown, riverfront and community college was all about? There’s something in some Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Regional Citizens Committee (RCC) minutes of June 16, 2009 about Pottstown turning down $500K. Curious…

      “The RCC recommends that the DVRPC Board approve TIP Action PA09-44, PennDOT’s
      request to amend the FY2009-2012 TIP for Pennsylvania by removing the FY09
      construction phase ($502,000 STE) from the Pottstown Business District
      Pedestrian/Bicycle Promenade (MPMS #61709); thereby deleting the project from the
      TIP. The RCC noted that it was disappointed that Pottstown Borough was no longer
      pursuing this project
      .” (emphasis added)

  2. August 18, 2010 12:03 pm

    The link for the RCC minutes does not work, but I would love to look into this.

    BTW, as far as the gas tax, with the advent of more fuel efficient cars and the overall gas consumption coupled with the Obama administrations catastrophic economic policies, I understand the need for additional revenue for our highways.

    I am also a big proponent of privatization.

  3. August 19, 2010 1:54 pm

    Sue,
    Interesting discussion. I was not aware of the brochure.
    To answer your question about the promenade, it was a project pursued by the borough to strengthen the pedistrian connection between downtown and Rivertfront Park, particularly the building where the Schuylkill Heritage Center (and future MCCC water studies program will be) located.
    But when the bids came in, they were way over budget and the borough did not have enough money, so it dropped the project.
    At the last council meeting, Jason Bobst reported that money had become available in PennDOT’s budget (through stimulus funding) and the borough could pursue the project again (the plans and engineering are all done) with no matching money.
    That, combined with the new transit center at the old train station, are all geared (in part) to lay the foundation for the return of rail and connect the station to PART buses and to the park and the Schuylkill River Trail.
    That’s the short version on that.
    — Evan

    • August 19, 2010 2:26 pm

      Hey, Evan –

      Thanks for the info on the pedestrian promenade connector. I’d found some more info online, suspected a lack of matching funds, but nothing definitive as to why the project came to a halt. One mystery solved. It would be great to have a “picture” of what it would look like if it become something the Boro pursues again. I didn’t find a visual online.

      It would be a real communication lapse if the 422 Corridor planning folks didn’t bring a bunch of brochures to all of these meetings for the public, the elected officials and the press. Or at least direct people to the online version (if they’re trying to save paper.) Can’t assume that everyone will find the online info on their own. Or maybe they did and no one paid attention?? The brochure sure does give a lot to talk about, IMO. Since this issue is not going away, there’s still an opportunity to bring the whole community into the discussion — at least I hope so.

      • August 20, 2010 11:01 am

        Sue took a look at the brochure.
        Some of it is info that has been contained in the on-line report for nearly a year, but the Pottstown specific part I’ve never seen.
        Although I am on the 422 group’s e-mail list, I was never made aware of the Pottstown-specific information nor was it made available to the public at the meeting to my knowledge.
        I was not at that meeting so I cannot speak from first-hand knowledge.
        Whether it was made available to the members of council, I cannot say. As I’ve noted, they were pretty silent on the issue.
        I agree with other posters, that the plan will probably be adopted anyway. Opponents have said the resolution is just an attempt to whitewash it, while supporters say it is a way for the borough (and other towns) to show their support.
        Other than the Keim Street bridge issue, with the tolling question off the table as part of the resolution, I’m still having a hard figuring out what else borough council would have wanted the plan to include to consider it a positive for Pottstown.

      • August 20, 2010 1:15 pm

        I can understand how it may look like the whole process of meetings and resolutions is a rubber-stamp, and the locals have no real say anyway. On the other hand. the transportation planners have already gone back and looked more closely at other possibilities based on feedback. These large-scale “cross-acceptance” processes can be unwieldy, but it’s what we’ve got when we try to do things on a regional level – in between the hyper-local details and the usually unfathomable federal machinations.

        Again, no matter what, Pottstown is supposed to be one of the region’s revitalizing downtowns, a hub, a center. That means getting in the mix, hashing out ideas about its future in public, having an opinion, etc. It may be hard to embrace this role & image – being a leader – but it’s gotta happen before things deteriorate further.

  4. August 19, 2010 1:55 pm

    P.S.
    What I would really be interested in knowing is whether any of the members of council who voted against this plan were aware of the brochure or had read any of the study. Too bad they didn’t say.

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