State Affirms Support—But No Money—for PATCO Extension
May 14th, 2010 by Jay Corbalis
Last year, then-Governor Corzine went to Woodbury to proclaim his support for the extension of PATCO rail service to Gloucester County. More important, he committed $500 million from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund (yes, that Transportation Trust Fund) toward the estimated $1.6 billion project. New Jersey Future has long supported the project, not only for the improved transportation options it will provide Gloucester County residents, but also for its potential to serve as a catalyst for smart growth in one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. The line, which would run along existing track through many of the area’s historic centers, was also endorsed by the State Planning Commission as consistent with the goals of the State Development and Redevelopment Plan. The line also has the support ofmany of the major institutions and governments in the area, including Rowan University, the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Under the Christie administration, the project faces a less certain future. During recent budget hearings, state Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson suggested the project may be better suited to Bus Rapid Transit than rail, and that he may seek federal funding for the line, rather than funding it through the TTF. In a recent interview with Paul Nussbaum of the Philadelphia Inquirer, however, Simpson reaffirmed the state’s commitment to the project as a rail line, saying, “It’s the preferred alternative, and we support the preferred alternative.” With regard to funding he was less emphatic, saying he cannot yet say how much the administration would commit to the project—but that $500 million was “Corzine’s commitment, not ours.”
Despite the uncertainty, PATCO is moving ahead with the project, and is currently conducting public hearings as part of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) required under the federal process. Should PATCO decide to seek federal funding under the New Starts program, a decision would take several years.