Harrisburg area mass-transit plan is far from dead
By Patriot-News Op-Ed
GERALD K. MORRISON is an attorney at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC and chairman of the nonprofit Modern Transit Partnership.
February 21, 2010, 11:51AM
Much has been written during the last few months about the potential demise of the Capital Red Rose Corridor project.
To give a little refresher, Corridor One, the first leg of a central Pennsylvania mass transportation system, has been renamed the Capital Red Rose Corridor to describe its connection of Lancaster to Harrisburg.
Skeptics have questioned its viability, critics have questioned its expense, and a few naysayers have weighed in at every opportunity to predict that its time has passed.
The reality is, this project enjoys broad, enthusiastic support from capital region commuters, employers, universities and elected officials.
The Modern Transit Partnership, a nonprofit organization made up of representatives of public and private sectors, was founded in 1997 to support a multi-modal mass transportation system for the capital region. It has been a long, hard struggle to accomplish what we have.
Fortunately, today the CRRC is on the virtual goal line of getting the necessary funding to commence service between Harrisburg and Lancaster. It also is likely, almost at the same time, that new bus service will be initiated between Harrisburg, Hershey and Lebanon that will tie into the rail service at the Harrisburg Transportation Center.
The confluence of rail and bus service will carry workers, students, tourists and commuters back and forth to the Hershey Transportation Center, as well as connect commuters from central Lebanon and central Lancaster to major employers in Hershey and suburban areas, as well as to the state Capitol.
How close are we to commencing service?
During 2009, we secured the support of Gov. Ed Rendell, who issued a letter to the Federal Transit Administration urging its prompt approval of our application to begin service.
We have consistently enjoyed the support of the mayors of Harrisburg and Lancaster and the commissioners of Dauphin and Lancaster counties. Additionally, we enjoy strong support from legislators throughout the capital region who will have a great deal to say about funding assistance for a true mass transit system.
In addition, rail stations are being renovated in Elizabethtown and Lancaster, and plans are under way for new stations in Mount Joy and Middletown/HIA.
As Amtrak and the commonwealth move toward higher-speed trains, our regional investment in the CRRC will assure continuity of service to the smaller towns along the line.
Discussions are under way with SEPTA to extend the CRRC to the southeast, to connect with SEPTA at Thorndale. This could provide 30-minute-interval rail service from every town along the CRRC to center city Philadelphia and on to the sports stadium complex.
With the connection to bus service at Harrisburg, commuters and tourists will be able to travel to Hershey for everything it has to offer.
In 2007, a regional coalition of federal senators and representatives provided a $10.9 million capital appropriation for the CRRC to initiate rail service.
The next requirement to assure the service is budgetary support from the commonwealth for operating assistance.
This has been a stumbling block for us, not so much because our project has not been appreciated and supported, but because of the political environment that we have faced on Capitol Hill in the last two years.
The enactment of Act 44 and the attempt to toll Interstate 80 or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike are propositions that were broadly opposed by our regional state legislators.
Without their support of Act 44, it was impossible to gain approval of the CRRC into the commonwealth’s mass transit funding formula.
We came back again in 2009 to seek state funding. The memories of last year’s budget impasse are still fresh for everyone.
Our timing could not have been worse, and it was just impossible to seek funding of a new project in the 2009/10 budget.
We have been patient and persistent, and we now believe it will be possible to gain the needed operating assistance for the CRRC in the 2010-11 state budget.
With the inclusion of the CRRC as part of a revamped transportation funding formula, it will be possible to immediately begin the final engineering and construction phase for the CRRC in 2010 and to commence service between Harrisburg and Lancaster by 2012.
At the same time, Capital Area Transit and County of Lebanon Transit will be planning for Corridor Two, premium bus service between Harrisburg, Hershey and Lebanon, to provide two legs of the capital region mass transportation system.
We urge readers to strongly support this project to their elected officials. The economic stimulative benefits to the capital region will be quick and long lasting.
All of this will be accomplished in a planned way that will include reducing pollution and urban sprawl and providing opportunities for downtown revitalization and economic development for all residents.