January 20, 2016
With the planning process for an extension of the Norristown High-Speed Line into King of Prussia chugging along, some residents of Upper Merion Township are voicing their displeasure with the project.
An online petition on Change.org, which as of Wednesday afternoon had more than 300 signatures, argues the extension would bring noise pollution, additional crime, and more clutter to an already busy highway (U.S. Route 202).
"Not to mention it will dramatically decrease home values," the petition reads.
Dan Cowhey, an Upper Merion resident who supports the petition, said the light rail project is a losing situation for his hometown.
"We see the project as something that benefits very few people in the Township and will potentially harm our community," Cowhey said in an email.
He disputed a recent study that concluded SEPTA's light rail extension would bring jobs and development to the region, saying the area is already on the up-and-up as a large expansion is slated for the King of Prussia Mall.
The study mostly focused on how King of Prussia would boom with the extension, which is down to five possible routes and will be narrowed to one by March. It also stated that the project has the "potential to generate significant revenue for Upper Merion Township," creating up to $1.1 million in property tax revenue each year.
Cowhey isn't sold: "Most of the positives that could come out of this extension would be for people outside Upper Merion Township," he said.
The petition comes well before any final decisions have been made. Liz Smith, SEPTA's Manager of Long Range Planning, noted the project is still in the planning phase.
She also stressed that SEPTA has gone out of its way to involve the community in the decision-making process, saying they've held five community meetings, met with the Upper Merion Board of Supervisors, and have run an active website where they receive comments.
"We've taken many steps to make sure we're getting the word out about this project," Smith said.
But Cowhey said the "tougher" questions he's proposed to SEPTA officials have been avoided. Along with other residents, he's concerned about trains running within 20 feet of some people's backyards, the sound of the trains as they pass through the neighborhood and the "eyesore" an extension would create.
One of the more eyebrow-raising claims in the petition is that the proposed rail would bring more crime to the area.
Cowhey said he didn't author the original post, but said it echoes the community's concerns, citing a 2012 analysis that found increased in crime and decreased housing values around the Trenton-Camden light rail in New Jersey.
Smith said that claim doesn't consider that there is already plenty of public transit running through the area into King of Prussia, but she did say it was something they were taking into account.
There are still lots of steps to be taken before going forward, Smith said. If things go according to schedule, construction could begin by 2020 and the line could be operational by 2023.
SEPTA plans to keep an open dialogue with residents and utilize public feedback as the project develops, Smith said.
That feedback might not be in line with SEPTA's plans, however.
"With the options left on the table," Cowhey said, "I think the only outcome that will be acceptable is to scrap this project."