Philadelphia City Council will hold hearings about a proposed Roosevelt Boulevard Subway, a move spurred by the I-95 collapse in Northeast Philly over the weekend.
Councilmember Mike Driscoll, who represents District 6 in the Northeast, is introducing a resolution on Thursday for the Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities to “review the impacts and funding options to extend the subway system into the Roosevelt Boulevard corridor,” per a press release.
A proposal to extend SEPTA’s Broad Street Line along the main corridor connecting the Northeast to Center City was originally considered over 100 years ago, but never materialized. The idea of a Roosevelt Boulevard Subway started to gain renewed attention last summer.
Driscoll’s office has been looking at the proposal for a while, said his legislative director Jacob Golden, and decided to introduce the resolution this week after a gasoline tanker caught fire underneath an interstate overpass, killing the driver, decimating a highway bridge, and sending tens of thousands of commuters into a tailspin.
“We believe that if a Roosevelt Boulevard subway had been in place, the shock of I-95 would have been much more tame compared to what it is now for our commuters,” Golden told Billy Penn.
The Sunday collapse of the northbound lanes of the highway at the Route 73/Cottman overpass, just north of the Tacony-Palmyra bridge, has closed the surrounding stretches of normally busy interstate in both directions and altered commuting patterns. That part of the highway will stay closed for months as repairs occur.
Hearings don’t guarantee that a subway will be built through the Northeast, but they’re a step toward getting relevant parties to the table to seriously consider it.
A dozen other councilmembers are co-sponsoring Driscoll’s resolution according to Jay Arzu, the Penn grad student and transit advocate who’s been instigating for the line to be built via discussions with officials and his Twitter account, @blvdsubway. Those co-sponsors include the transportation committee’s chair Kenyatta Johnson and vice chair Mark Squilla, plus four of its other members. Notably missing from the list is the other Northeast Philly district representative, Councilmember Brian O’Neill.
The resolution looks to bring together stakeholders across all levels of government, legislative director Golden said, to have a formal discussion about what would need to happen to bring a subway line, or “some form of rapid transit” to Northeast Philly.
Plans for a Roosevelt Boulevard Subway line have gotten numerous false starts since the original 1913 proposal, and a lack of funding was seen as the big hurdle for the most recent push about a decade ago.
But Councilmember Driscoll is optimistic about the “once in a generation funding opportunities” available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Golden said.
The idea of the hearings, he said, is to convene “the folks who can allocate money from Philadelphia, the folks who can allocate money from the state, and the folks that can allocate money from the federal government all together so that we have a strategy and a plan to best utilize our resources to make this happen.”
On the list of planned invitees, per Golden: Philly’s congressional delegation, state legislators from the Northeast (and potentially beyond), and representatives from the Federal Transit Administration.
“The councilman has seen the funding opportunities that are available, [and] aren’t going to be here forever,” Golden said. “And if we don’t take them, someone else will. He sees the immense value that decreasing car reliance and auto centric development would have for the people of his district.”