The Delaware River Port Authority plays a critical role in fostering growth throughout the greater Philadelphia region. An important part of that is making strategic investments in economic development.
That's the rationale behind the DRPA's economic-development grants. Even though they may not always be popular, they are right for the long-term growth of the region.
Seventeen years ago, elected leaders in New Jersey and Pennsylvania recognized that the DRPA was uniquely situated to support economic development. They amended the agency's charter to make that one of its essential functions. The amendments were reviewed and approved by the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legislatures, Congress, and the president.
The DRPA subsequently became an active supporter of economic development, allocating $340 million from the proceeds of a 1999 bond issue to fund projects important to the region's continued economic vitality.
When I became governor in 2003, about $35 million in proceeds from the 1999 bond issue remained. I made it clear that the DRPA would have to become more selective about the number and size of the grants.
In announcing the DRPA's $1.1 billion capital-repair program, we promised that no proceeds from the bonds issued would be used for economic-development grants. We are keeping that promise.
But the DRPA also made it clear that it would use the $35 million remaining from the 1999 bond issue for economic development. In some cases, such as the new Barnes Foundation exhibit hall or the Army-Navy game, the DRPA committed the funding long ago. We must honor those commitments.
Last month, with my full support, the authority announced $11 million in new grants for several transit-related projects that are vital to the region. I believe these grants are necessary and appropriate.
I recognize that local commuters are concerned about the use of this money for economic development at a time when bridge tolls are increasing. But these projects are vital to the future of the region.
The new DRPA grants will support infrastructure improvements in Camden that will prepare the way for a proposed medical-school research facility next to the PATCO rail line's City Hall station. Other grants support improvements to the South Jersey Gateway Corridor, which will also attract new business and jobs, as well as more motorists and riders on the authority's bridges and rails.
In Philadelphia, the grants will support the reopening of PATCO's Franklin Square train station and the completion of the President's House project - easily one of the city's most significant historical developments in the last 50 years.
Think back to the summer of 2007, when more than 300,000 people flocked to the area to see the history being unearthed at the site. Our intent is to provide funds that will allow the project to be completed by the Fourth of July, when we hope to have President Obama dedicate the exhibit.
Does anyone seriously dispute that this will generate significantly more trips across our bridges and on our trains? It is a worthwhile historical and transit-related project, and it absolutely warrants $3.5 million from the DRPA.
Even if the remaining money from the 1999 bonds were diverted to the capital program, the authority would still have to pursue a $1.1 billion bond issue to maintain the safety, security, and serviceability of our bridges and rail line. And we would still need every penny of the toll increases.
These economic-development projects make sense for our region, riders, and drivers, and they are worthy of public support.