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A subway on the Boulevard?

Supporters of a subway on the Boulevard

Proponents of a subway up Roosevelt Boulevard have been stymied for more than a century, with plans thwarted by World War I, the Depression, a lack of funds and community opposition.

Obstacles remain, such as significant engineering work, tunneling, station construction and track laying.

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Subway supporters are eyeing federal funding, which would only come if the region matches the money. New York, the Bay Area, Baltimore and Miami are already seeking money for heavy rail projects like a subway, and supporters of a Philly subway don’t want to miss out.

They have an ambitious time schedule for breaking ground – 2026, when Councilman Mike Driscoll said the Philadelphia area will be on the “world stage” celebrating the nation’s semiquincentennial (250th birthday) and hosting World Cup soccer games, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square.

Several local elected officials are pushing the idea. Last week, Driscoll and state Reps. Jared Solomon and Joe Hohenstein held a town hall at City Reach Church, 6814 Torresdale Ave.

Driscoll described the effort as a “moonshot,” likening it to President John F. Kennedy’s proposal to land a man on the moon within a decade.

“This is a big project,” Driscoll said, “but it can be done.”

Preliminarily, the El would connect with the subway at Bustleton Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard. The subway could start heading north on the Boulevard at Erie Avenue and go as far as the Neshaminy Mall.

Driscoll said a subway would be good for economic development and would lower the number of cars on the Boulevard. He awaits release of a PennDOT impact study early next year.

To skeptics of such a big project, the councilman pointed to the reopening of I-95 in June, just 12 days after a fire caused a road collapse.

“We can do big things if we put our mind to it,” he said.

Solomon said pedestrians and drivers alike avoid the Boulevard, adding that a subway would create jobs and boost the economy.

Solomon asked for a show of hands at the Nov. 28 town hall, and an overwhelming number of people favored a subway, with a few having reservations. Supporters, most of whom did not appear to be from the Northeast, indicated they did not want to settle for bus-dedicated lanes, a monorail or an elevated train. They wore shirts and buttons in support of a subway.

“We need to have everyone wearing these in Northeast Philadelphia,” Solomon said.

Hohenstein said New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago have multiple subways. He said a subway on the Boulevard would be good for the environment and move commuters more efficiently.

“This is something that our neighborhoods and our communities need,” he said.

Where would some of the local funding come from?

Hohenstein has introduced House Bill 1307, which would allow Philadelphia and six other counties to levy and collect additional local taxes to fund transportation projects. Rep. Ben Waxman has introduced House Bill 902, which would permit certain counties to levy fees or surcharges to help fund their local public transit systems. Driscoll suggested an inner-lane expressway with modest tolls. ••

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