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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

LV Rail Study Makes Busing Look Very Attractive

I was unable to attend Tuesday night's rail study symposium, hosted by RenewLV at the Hotel Bethlehem. Little League baseball is lots more fun, especially in Fountain Hill. The people who live there are just a little more relaxed than the rest of us.

As we know from the Morning Call and Express Times accounts, we just spent $250,000 to learn that it will cost about $1 billion for a rail line for 800 riders to the Big Apple. It sounds ridiculous, but the days of cheap gas are coming to an end. Thanks to the Express Times, you can view Systra Consulting's study here.

We're talking about $1 billion for a few miles of tracks that will take people from the LV cities to New York. Exec John Stoffa is quoted as saying, "If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that our love affair with the automobile must some day come to an end.'' OK, John, build the train. Now, how the hell do you travel from the courthouse to East Allen Township at the end of the day? How do I get back to Nazareth? How do big employers like hospitals and Air Products get their people home? The rail study only provides an answer, and an expensive one, for commuters to NYC.

Instead of focusing on rail, I think we need to pay more attention to buses as a way of getting around the LV. As cars become more expensive, the bus could become an appealing alternative. The report even hints that busing is the best answer to the daily commute to NYC.

In addition to cost, rail study excerpts reveal a devastating impact on our environment.

• Floodplains - Small areas of 100-year floodplain are present in several locations adjacent to the right-of-way and within the right-of-way in Easton, Glendon and Lower Saucon, Bethlehem, and Fountain Hill. The right-of-way (ROW) is located within the 100-year floodplain in Allentown.

• Wetlands - Rail ROW crosses wetlands and a creek on the approach to the proposed Allentown Station at Banana Joe’s site (former passenger station).

• Historic - Rail ROW is adjacent to the historic Lehigh Canal and is part of the Lehigh River Greenway.

• Parklands – The Hugh Moore Historical Park is located adjacent to the ROW on the north side.

• Ecology - The ROW is located within the Lehigh Slopes Natural Area in Williams and the Steel City Slopes Natural Area in Bethlehem. The locally-significant Steel City Slopes are located on a north-facing slope above the Lehigh River in Lower Saucon Township and supports a diverse herb and fern habitat. Proposed work would be contained within already disturbed areas.

• Easton Station - Small area of 100-year floodplain located within ROW on the north side of the alignment.

• Bethlehem Station - Located on former industrial property. Any hazardous materials impacts from the Bethlehem Steel operation would be mitigated by the BethWorks development.

• Allentown Station - Located entirely within 100-year floodplain.
Update (8:00 AM): Molovinsky has a related post.


Chris said...

What happens when you cross a b us with a train? You get lilght rail, or what used to be referredto as trolleys. There are still tracks where I live in the greater Lehigh Valley surburban region. Perhaps forward thinkers would worry less about NYC commuters and more about reducing the dependence on the automobile in the LV. Why can't we build HOV lanes or a monorail on Route 22. What works for Europe could work for the Lehigh Valley...hell, even Disney has light rail, and who doesn;t love Disney? I think that Greco could run the light rail in the valley, augmented by the faitful LANTA bus system.

Chris said...

By the way, I'd rather see rail resumed to Philly before NYC, but central Jersey is a part of the region now, for better or for worse.

The real question is, if you build it, will they come (and use it)?

I can see an elevated Route 22 monorail, with feeder buses to all the industrial parks, and TransitCheks for workers to use their money for mass transit tax free travel.

What about some serious Park N Rides, not just for Trans Bridge and Bieber?

Just some more thoughts to ponder...

Anonymous said...

Bernie I must compliment you on having fun with John Stoffa's quote. Your love of him is well known. The quote was the usual type of esoteric philosophical thing John tends to say when confronted with real problems. I think he would have been better suited as a philosopher than a County Executive.

The car is part of the American and world culture and while the fuel may change the car will be a factor for the rest of the 21st century.

While I beg, please do not make Greco head of anything since he is about as creative as a buggy whip, the buses are here to stay. I propose we review the natural gas run buses being used in some parts of the country. The US has massive reserves of natural gas. it burns clean with none of the pollution of petroleum. Having bus only lanes on I-78 would end up being more cost efficient and reasonable than the $ 1 billion
nostalgic train.

As to light rail within the Valley. if done right it makes more sense than widening Rt 22.


Anonymous said...

No trains; more cars. We own a car company people. We need to sell more cars. It's like propping up tobacco prices, while funding cancer research. We must choose. We already chose to own GM. We chose cars.

Anonymous said...

Please. More trains, less cars.

We need to plan for all forms of transportation and link them together so that their benefits are maximized.

Light rail is good. Passenger rail is good. Buses are good.

Cars are not good. Too much pollution, congestion, waste and collateral damage. (40,000 people each year die in car crashes every year in the U.S. -- this is the equivalent of a Vietnam War every year).

Good for LVEDC and RenewLV for their support of this idea.

President Obama said...

Can't we just buy a train company?

Anonymous said...

President Obama -

Maybe you could just force us to buy train tickets, whether we ride or not, to cover the $1 billion.

If it's good enough for healthcare...

Anonymous said...


It’s my guess the old right of ways still exist, why not allow this project to go forward with private money? Remember Pennsylvania Railroad. Wasn’t that how we used to do things in this country?

Scott Armstrong

Looking To Escape said...

"Remember Pennsylvania Railroad. Wasn’t that how we used to do things in this country?"
The Pennsylvania Railroad didn't care about the ferns.

Anonymous said...

"Remember Pennsylvania Railroad. Wasn’t that how we used to do things in this country?"

Yes, until we built the interstate highway system and put them out of business.

Anonymous said...

Chris -

The best part of Disney's monorail is that it is paid for by those who CHOOSE to visit Disney (and pay for it when they buy an admission ticket).

I don't think Lehigh Valley taxpayers will be so lucky when the government decides that some of us need bus, rail, or monorail.

Anonymous said...

I don't use 22. Why am I paying for it?

Anonymous said...

Your opinion matters why Bernie?

Fact is you should ride a bike and lose some lard.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks for the tip. I can always lose weight, but anonymous cowards like you will always be anonymous cowards. You end up making me look good, so thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"I don't use 22. Why am I paying for it?"


As an automobile user, you, I and other AUTOMOBILE USERS are paying for access, construction and maintenance costs of the road system through our gasoline taxes - at both the state and federal level. This is a shared expense among ALL automobile users.

I have no problem if RAIL USERS are charged for the cost of extending/maintaining rail lines from New York to the Valley, just don't expect the rest of us to fund your pipe dream.

C said...

Nice article Bernie....objective and without speculation. I do think that cars are here to stay in some capacity...even if we all wind up driving those goofy smart cars.

Anonymous said...

We need to widen Route 22 from Cedar Crest to Airport Road.

People movers are more practical than Rail or NJ. How about a people mover from Hamilton to Route 329 along MacArthur Road, along Hamilton/Hanover/Union from Cedar Crest to Bethlehem, and from Bethlhem to Easton?

Lets fix Route 22 first. We will have a new form of auto before it goes away.

Anonymous said...

The event was sponsored by the National and LV Realtors. The most enthusiastic people in the crowd were Realtors. With the stated goal of getting more people from NJ to relocate, don't you think this will be more of a catalyst for sprawl than improving our existing infrastructure?

We heard talk about better access to jobs in NJ and NY. Imagine what a $1B investment HERE would do to grow jobs and the valleys economy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Nice article Bernie....objective and without speculation. "

I'm not used to compliments. Send me your address and I'll mail you a check. I'll try to do worse next time.

Anonymous said...

How about this:

Imagine what NOT siphoning 1 billion dollars from the pockets of Lehigh Valley taxpayers would do to grow the Valley's economy.

Individuals could decide how best to spend their money (imagine that).

Some might open new businesses, while others might spend it on existing Valley businesses, growing them. Either scenario creates jobs.

Anonymous said...

"As an automobile user, you, I and other AUTOMOBILE USERS are paying for access, construction and maintenance costs of the road system through our gasoline taxes"

Are you suggesting gasoline taxes cover capital road construction costs and/or maintenance costs in this country? Not even close on either.

Anonymous said...

This study should be the nail in the coffin for regional rail. On December 6, 2007, I attended a briefing in Washington DC, created by Rep. Charlie Dent. Senator Specter was present, along with other US Representatives in the Rayburn House Office Building. The Federal Transit Administration offered their opinion on federal financial support for passenger rail service in the Lehigh Valley. Dent wanted to know if the Lehigh Valley could use the New Starts program, which provides funds for construction of new fixed guideway systems or extensions to existing fixed guideway systems. The FTA said that the Administration was sending the limited federal allotment to the largest urban centers in the US, not the Lehigh Valley. The FTA said that the Lehigh Valley was better off applying for the Small Starts program, that provides funds to capital projects for things such as the purchasing of buses for fleet and service expansion, bus maintenance and administrative facilities, transfer facilities, bus malls, transportation centers, intermodal terminals, park-and-ride stations, acquisition of replacement vehicles, bus rebuilds, bus preventive maintenance, passenger amenities such as passenger shelters and bus stop signs, accessory and miscellaneous equipment such as mobile radio units, supervisory vehicles, fare boxes, computers and shop and garage equipment. The regional planning commissions are currently creating intermodals in the cities as we speak and we should invest in those projects.


Anonymous said...

"I don't use 22. Why am I paying for it?"

If you live in this area, the delivery of goods and services you require almost certainly rely upon use of 22. You certainly do use it.

Anonymous said...

This country opted for cars several generations ago. We've reinforced that decision by publicly funding the world's largest automobile manufacturer. Despite the appearance of a debate, the deeds of our government, repeated consistently, indicate there really is no debate. We're all about cars.

Anonymous said...

Obama owns GM.

What does he have to say about this?

Anonymous said...

GM killed the buses years ago. They should pay to have them restored.

A billion bucks could buy a lot of buses.

Who was suckered into the $250,000 for the consultants report. So much for conventional wisdom.

Anonymous said...

I find the emergence of groups like RENEW Lehigh Valley to be troubling. These groups come into being and take on an almost quasi-government role.
They advocate positions, they get government funds to do studies and in the case of the health Board are purely self-serving.

Are local elected officials should wish all these groups well and then promptly tell them not to ask for a penny of public funds from any level of government.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

7:07 you're right..

They want to regionalize everything under the guise that we live in one big community. Great for all the consultants who make millions on the studies. But, terrible for everyone else. Being parochial is ok. You can save some bucks,

Anonymous said...

So the mechanic at Pep Boys is supposed to underwrite the train ride of highly paid Wall Stree bankers and Jersey pharmeceutical reps? And those former New Yorkers and Jerseyites are gonna flood our communities with new McMansions loaded with their little kiddies filling our schools and raising our taxes because they insist on 'only the best' (including all-weather running tracks and swimming poolls). I always thought economic development folks were charges with bringing jobs to the Lehigh Valley not inviting 'resident' who only sleep here. 800 people a day on the train....a mere 20 additional Trainsbridge buses gets that done in UNDER 2 hours.

Anonymous said...

The Counties CD Departments are just political showpieces with no substance. Either use them effectively or end them.

Anonymous said...

A remarkably cogent and logical post on this topic. Who wrote it?

But seriously, what the 'rail study' was was a technical transportation planning study to determine the value, cost and effectiveness of a passenger rail option - at least the portion from Phillipsburg to Allentown - and it came up very costly with patronage estimates disappointingly low.

But this will not deter the true believers who showed up at the Hotel Bethlehem the other night who had been sold a vision, not a transportation plan. They were also promised that this $250,000 study was the first necessary step to achieving the vision. They were promised that rail would restore the cities to their former glory and bring scads of 'young professionals' from New York and New Jersey to the many lofts that would be developed in the urban centers.

Who knows? Maybe it would. But the transportation models do not support that and that is what the transportation study demonstrated.

The example of Albuquerque, New Mexico and the rail project that was completed there in less than 5 years is often referenced as an example of what can happen here in the Valley. What is not explained (in addition to the population and demographic differences), is that that project was funded entirely with State and local funds - no Federal dollars at all - which gave New Mexico total control of the project and that made it possible.

We need dreamers and visionaries who see things that would not otherwise be given current trends and actions. We call these people leaders. The real question before the community now is: are political leaders, such as the three City Mayors and two County Executives, willing to extend their influence to support a local revenue source for such a project? Is there the political will among them to propose the implementation of local sales tax or other source of dollars devoted to the restoration of passenger rail?

Even then, the elephant in the room still squats in the corner: will New Jersey Transit extend passenger rail service from High Bridge to Phillipsburg? At the moment, the answer is a very loud NO.

So Bernie has it right this time. If the Valley wants to do something useful for now and future generations, the expansion of existing public transit services should be top of the list of priorities. LANTA just finished a plan. Why not support it?