Getting on Track

Good Investments for Pennsylvania’s Public Transit System

Pennsylvania’s transportation system is doing an increasingly poor job of moving people and goods efficiently and inexpensively around the Keystone State, while contributing to oil dependence and environmental harm.



PennPIRG Education Fund

Pennsylvania has long spent vastly more public resources on highways than on transit to meet our transportation needs. While Pennsylvania’s highway system provides the Keystone State with increased mobility, our historic neglect of transit is inflicting a heavy price – leaving too few of us with good alternatives to skyrocketing gasoline prices and increasingly gridlocked commutes.

There are dozens of important public transportation projects that can play an important role in addressing the Commonwealth’s transportation challenges. By moving ahead with these projects, Pennsylvania can give more of its residents new transportation choices, reduce our dependence on oil, ease congestion, and curb pollution.

Pennsylvania’s transportation system is doing an increasingly poor job of moving people and goods efficiently and inexpensively around the Keystone State, while contributing to oil dependence and environmental harm.

• Since 1990, the number of miles traveled on Pennsylvania’s highways increased by 21 percent, for an additional 23 billion miles of annual travel.

• Despite large investments in road expansion projects, gridlock is increasing on the Commonwealth’s highways. Congestion in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, as well as the Lehigh Valley, has gotten markedly worse since 1990, costing the economies of the three regions an estimated $2.5 billion in 2005. Most of that cost is borne by commuters through lost time and increased expenditure on gas.

• Pennsylvanians are more dependent on oil than ever before and many face crushing financial burdens due to higher gasoline prices. The amount of gasoline and diesel used in Pennsylvania grew 24 percent between 1990 and 2005. Pennsylvania now spends over $1,000 per person on gasoline each year, more than twice as much it did in 1990.

• Global warming pollution from Pennsylvania’s transportation sector has grown more than 20 percent in the last 15 years.

Pennsylvania’s public transportation systems already make an important contribution toward reducing oil consumption, traffic congestion and global warming pollution.

• In 2006, the state’s transit services saved more than 110 million gallons of gasoline, prevented 755,000 metric tons of global warming pollution, and saved Pennsylvanians more than 20 million hours of sitting in traffic.

• Pennsylvanians are increasingly turning to public transportation as an alternative to higher gasoline prices and tougher commutes. Ridership on Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor, for example, has grown more than 20 percent in the last year, after track upgrades increased the train’s top speed. Ridership on SEPTA’s commuter rail system increased by nearly 8 percent in 2007.

By building a series of critical – and often long-delayed – public transportation projects, Pennsylvania can help solve its transportation problems. There are many worthy transit expansion projects – many of which have been on the drawing board for decades – that can expand Pennsylvanians’ access to transit and improve the state’s transportation system.

The Philadelphia area is home to the biggest transit network in the state. Philadelphia’s growth, however, has outpaced the expansion of the region’s transit network. While existing rail lines are heavily used, and service in a number of areas will soon become more frequent, great opportunities for improving service to new areas have been left on the drawing board for lack of funding despite their significant benefits.

Making services more convenient and easier to use can be a relatively inexpensive way of increasing ridership, from a streamlined website to free wireless internet on trains.

The Roosevelt Boulevard Metro would be a new subway line from Center City Philadelphia to Northeast Philadelphia, where the 12- lane Roosevelt Boulevard is unable to handle growing congestion and safety issues.

Connecting Thorndale and Trenton, N.J., via Norristown with a new Cross County Metro rail line, would facilitate east-west travel across the region.

Expanding the PATCO Line to run along the Philadelphia Waterfront would increase the reach of existing trains from South Jersey with a second line allowing access to the destinations along the Delaware River.

Extending the Elywn Line to Wawa and Sylmar via Chadds Ford and Oxford would expand Philadelphia’s transit network to the southwest.

The Pittsburgh area has several exciting transit projects that use existing heavy rail tracks, would build new light-rail lines, or simply expand bus service.

The Spine Line Light Rail would expand Pittsburgh’s existing lightrail network to include Oakland and extend towards Homestead or Wilkinsburg.

Cranberry Township has plans to create a modern bus transit system to improve transportation options within this rapidly growing community and for commutes to Pittsburgh.

The Allegheny Valley Commuter Rail would shuttle residents of Lawrenceville, Verona, Oakmont, New Kensington and Arnold to Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

A Latrobe to Pittsburgh commuter rail line would link communities along the congested Route 30 corridor, including Wilkinsburg, Swissvale, Braddock, East Pittsburgh, Wilmerding, Trafford, Irwin, Jeannette and Greensburg.

The Harrisburg – Lancaster area’s CorridorOne commuter rail project would connect Harrisburg with Lancaster to the southeast, along with several communities in between. The project is intended to be the first step in a larger network of regional rail transit. Mechanicsburg, to the west of Harrisburg in Cumberland County, is one of the areas that is being considered for connecting service.

Linking Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and Northeastern Pennsylvania with New York City via a connection with New Jersey Transit would bring new opportunities to the region. A commuter rail connection used to exist and reinstating the service would help relieve congestion in the area with high commuter populations.

Linking Pittsburgh with Philadelphia via high-speed rail would provide an important alternative to car and air travel between the two cities, while improving transportation connections with central Pennsylvania. The upgrade would expand upon the successful recent launch of higherspeed rail service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg by connecting the two with Pittsburgh.

Rail transit between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia would reinstate service that was phased out in 1979 due to insufficient funding in an area that has grown 25 percent since that time. If the existing tracks and ties were upgraded, a study predicted that as many as 4,267 trips might take place on the line each day.

The Schuylkill Valley Metro proposal would link Reading into the Philadelphia-area rail network with 62 miles of new route.

Pennsylvania took the first step to addressing its long-term transit needs with the creation of a dedicated state funding source for transit in 2007. Thanks to this new funding source, SEPTA announced plans this August to expand service on some of its busiest bus and train routes, including the R5 to Paoli/Thorndale, the R6 to Norristown, and the R7 to Trenton. However, the long-term trends in driving, oil consumption and global warming pollution suggest that Pennsylvania needs to do more and act now by fully investing in a new transportation future, with efficient, modern transit at its core.

Local, state and federal decision makers should prioritize investing in the state’s transit network in order to create viable long-term transportation options for Pennsylvanians, cut down on gasoline expenditures, and reduce wasted time and global warming pollution. Policy actions should include increasing funding for transit projects across the state, shifting funding from sprawl-inducing highways to public transit projects, and calling on Congress to increase federal funding for critical transit projects around the country.