By Paul Nussbaum, The Philadelphia Inquirer
NJ Transit will get $2.6 million to move ahead with plans for a "bus rapid transit" route to link South Jersey and Philadelphia, and SEPTA will receive $5 million to upgrade its 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby, federal transportation officials said Monday.
In addition, NJ Transit is getting $73 million to upgrade its statewide bus fleet, including new buses that run on compressed natural gas.
The South Jersey rapid-bus system along Route 55, Route 42, and I-676 would allow rush-hour buses to travel on highway shoulder lanes and medians for part of the trip to Philadelphia and would provide 1,800 new parking spaces for commuters in Winslow and Deptford Townships.
The project is expected to cost $46 million, and the $2.6 million announced Monday is the first payment of what local officials hope will be as much as $23 million in federal funding for the project.
The money will be used to buy buses, modify traffic signals, and develop a system to allow riders to buy tickets before boarding.
The system would allow buses to travel in dedicated lanes, with traffic-signal priority, to speed the commute. Stops along the way would have train-style shelters with ticket machines and real-time information about arrivals.
Along with the planned $900 million reconstruction of the I-295/I-76/Route 42 bottleneck in the same corridor and a proposed $1.6 billion light-rail line nearby, the system could help transform travel between South Jersey and Philadelphia, said U.S. Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), who pushed for the funding.
"It dramatically changes South Jersey in terms of congestion and economic development," Andrews said Monday. "People who work in Center City could have a 40-minute commute and buy a house in South Jersey for 30 percent of what they'd pay in Montgomery or Bucks Counties."
The plan is for buses to travel a 23-mile main line to Philadelphia from Avandale, in Winslow Township. A branch would take riders from Deptford along Route 55 to join the main line at its merger with Route 42.
The bus service could be in full operation by 2020, NJ Transit officials have said. Some parts could be phased in earlier, with construction beginning in about two years.
An estimated 6,400 riders would use the rapid-bus route daily by 2035, according to NJ Transit projections. It would cost from $5 million to $10 million a year to operate, planners said.
The plan calls for 26 buses to run at 10- to 15-minute intervals during rush hours from Winslow to a location west of City Hall on Market Street.
The plan would expand the existing Avandale park-and-ride lot on Route 536 and add parking lots on College Drive in Winslow and Delsea Drive in Deptford.
SEPTA will receive $5 million to restore the 105-year-old 69th Street Transportation Center, with better lighting, waiting room facilities, and pedestrian access.
The terminal is the western end of the Market-Frankford El and the terminus for the Norristown High-Speed Line and the Media and Sharon Hill trolley routes, and a destination for 15 bus routes.
In addition to the money for the rapid bus-transit project, NJ Transit received $27.2 million to replace 37 diesel buses based in Egg Harbor Township with 37 electric-diesel hybrid buses. Egg Harbor buses primarily provide service to South Jersey and Philadelphia.
Also, NJ Transit received $46 million to replace 84 diesel buses with 84 that operate on compressed natural gas, operating out of Howell. Howell provides express bus service to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan via the Route 9 corridor.
The money was part of $787 million for 255 transit projects in 48 states announced Monday by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the federal transit administrator, Peter Rogoff.
(c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer