DRPA's development plans conflict

February 18, 2009 4:45:58 PM PST
Just the scent of economic development is unusual these days, but the Delaware River Port Authority is trying to sell a major development agenda, but not everyone thinks it's a good idea, even if it does create jobs.For the past 17 years, the DRPA, which operates four bridges and PATCO, has funded hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development projects. They include Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, the Kimmel Center, Adventure Aquarium and Campbell Field to name a few.

Today, the DRPA board voted to spend $11 of $35 million from a previous bond issue.

The projects include $3.5 million for the Presidents House at Independece Mall, $2.5 million for a Franklin Square restaurant, $1.5 million for a medical school building in Camden, plus demolition and infrastructure improvements on both sides of the river.

"These projects are all centered around PATCO train stations; they're centered around opportunities for transit oriented development," DRPA CEO John Matheussen said.

A long list of speakers argued against the economic development spending today, but just as many supported it including Camden Mayor Gwen Faison.

"You are concerned not just with the tracks and the trains, but you are concerned with the entire environment. We deserve it, as people of the city of Camden," Mayor Faison said.

"Let me ask, what return on investment do these projects have for motorists? When are tolls going to go down? Or will the billion dollar DRPA burden of death be left to the next generation of motorists?" Cathy Rossi of AAA Mid-Atlantic said.

The DRPA says a thousand jobs will be created by the projects which are not using toll money, but toll money is being used to pay off the bonds and with bridge tolls at $4 going to $5 next year, most motorists don't have the still stomach for more spending on non transportation work.

"I don't object to the projects you want to do, I object to funding them on the backs of motorists like me," Frank Gilanelli of Moorestown, New Jersey said.

Some favor changing the DRPA charter so it can't spend money on economic development projects, but that's not an easy task as it takes approval of New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislatures, an act of congress, and the President's signature.

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