SEPTA is leasing vehicles from a Maryland transit agency to accommodate commuters whose frustration with I-95 traffic might prompt them to take the train.
The beefed-up service was prompted by construction on the expressway’s entering a stage expected to increase congestion for years to come, PennDot officials said.
“Over these eight to nine years that are coming up, there will be a lot more mainline construction,” said Elaine Elbich, I-95′s portfolio manager for the state Department of Transportation.
PennDot recently shut the southbound off-ramp to Girard Avenue for two years, and work is expected to begin in 2020 on stretches near the Bridge Street and Betsy Ross Bridge interchange. Three lanes in each direction are going to be kept open, but PennDot officials expect the work to slow traffic.
On Monday, SEPTA will begin using five leased Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) cars on the West Trenton and Trenton Regional Rail lines. The additional vehicles will give SEPTA more capacity on both lines, and on the West Trenton Line will let the agency run two additional trains into Philadelphia every morning and out in the evening.
SEPTA is paying the Maryland Transit Administration $830,376 to lease the cars for one year.
Those routes, particularly the Trenton Line, have been crowded recently, a SEPTA spokesperson said. Ridership on Regional Rail as a whole rose by 7% in July and August compared with the same months in 2018, SEPTA reported, and the agency believes the highway construction played a role.
I-95 construction from Cottman Avenue to the Ben Franklin Bridge is scheduled to continue for the next nine years. The $2.7 billion project covers an eight-mile stretch used by 180,000 vehicles daily. When it’s finished, there will still be much work to do. PennDot officials anticipate that some portion of I-95 in Pennsylvania will be under construction during the next four decades.
PennDot has long been interested in diverting commuters onto public transportation. SEPTA has plans to upgrade its Conshohocken station, a step that state transit planners hope may encourage some Schuylkill Expressway drivers to take the train instead. PennDot has also proposed posting signs on the expressway with train departure times to pitch drivers on the idea that a rail trip might be faster.
Those Schuylkill signs likely will not be in place for years, though. But they are expected to be introduced on I-95 much sooner, Elbich said. In a year, signs are planned to alert drivers of travel times from the Cornwells Heights station in Bensalem.