Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Mt. Joy's train station project
To find the definition of myopia -- the lack of long-range thinking or planning -- you could look under the letter "M" in the dictionary. Or "T," as in the county's Transportation Coordinating Committee.
Several of the panel's 22 members are balking at the high cost of the proposed upgrade of the Mount Joy train station -- $27.5 million.
Indeed, some are questioning whether the station is needed, at all.
Money for the Mount Joy station is part of a $360 million effort by PennDOT to upgrade the popular Keystone rail line, which provides Amtrak service from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.
The effort includes the train stations in Lancaster ($17.5 million) and Elizabethtown ($8 million).
Critics on the transportation panel point to the Mount Joy ridership of 69,000 in fiscal 2012, which is a fraction of that of Lancaster's station (560,000).
They also note that the Elizabethtown train station is just four miles away.
The Mount Joy upgrade comes with a hefty price tag -- twice previous estimates. That much is true.
But the higher cost is due largely to the unique circumstances Mount Joy faces in trying to comply with extensive regulations in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
For one, the train station rests in what is referred to as a "gully" by Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, vice chairman of the committee that oversees transportation spending in the county.
For Mount Joy to comply with the ADA would require, among other things, installation of a series of elevators to reach new platforms along the tracks, which are 20 feet below street level.
"It's not as simple as just making sure somebody in a wheelchair can get to a train," says Toby Fauver, the PennDOT deputy secretary who oversees the Keystone rail line.
Gray and some others on the committee merely look past such challenges and focus only on the total cost.
Yet, they would yell the loudest, if their communities were faced with similar challenges. They would speak up for the handicapped in their communities, not shirk from their responsibility to see that the needs of disabled rail passengers are met.
Also, they cite the four miles to the E-town station, as if it is a convenient distance. But it isn't. It would be like asking the Lancaster mayor to travel to Millersville to hop a train. Not convenient, at all.
James Cowhey, executive director of the county Planning Commission, defends the Mount Joy project, rightly pointing out that it is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come.
"This is a 50- to 75-year investment," says Cowhey, adding, "All of these stations (Lancaster, E-town and Mount Joy) are important to the long-term economic growth of the county."
Unfortunately, some members of the transportation panel don't feel that way, and apparently are willing to let an opportunity in Mount Joy pass them by.
At a meeting on Monday, the panel was stalemated (7-7) on whether to move the Mount Joy project forward.
So, the matter is not yet settled, and the votes are potentially there to go ahead with it.
The panel has to decide by sometime in June, if federal funding is to be secured for the Mount Joy project in the upcoming fiscal year.
County Commissioner Scott Martin, the panel's chairman, says he'll attempt to arrange a meeting between members and Mount Joy officials in May, when the subject could be revisited.
Let's hope they meet, and that the transportation panel tries a different tack, one that emphasizes how the Mount Joy project can be made to work rather than how it can't.
The high cost is troubling to us, and maybe there's a less expensive way to complete the Mount Joy project. PennDOT certainly should try.
But the project's benefits for Mount Joy's downtown and the train station's contribution to the economic vitality of the county cannot be overstated.
Several of the panel's 22 members are balking at the $27.5 million cost of the project.