SEPTA needs Upper Merion real estate, a lot of it, to clear the way for the $1.8 billion King of Prussia Rail project — and it’s about to go on a buying spree.
On Thursday the agency’s board authorized spending up to $200 million to buy about 70 pieces of property and obtain easements for construction and operation of the four-mile rail spur, an extension of the existing Norristown High Speed Line.
“Unfortunately there was no magic route that would not require any real estate to be acquired in the dense King of Prussia area,” Hooven said.
The real estate includes a mix of residential, industrial, and commercial properties, though planners worked hard to minimize the number of homes affected, officials said.
Among the targeted properties: an Upper Merion Fire Company firehouse, home to the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company, and an adjacent Sept. 11 memorial.
The rails would be 90% elevated, so in many cases SEPTA would only need to acquire small pieces of a property for the supports. It also must secure air rights above the rail line, including from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority for permission to build two spans over I-276, Hooven said.
“The entire thing is one long bridge,” she said.
Temporary easements, or access to an owner’s property, also will be required to stage construction equipment and material, such as cranes and steel beams, while the line and its five stations are being built.
SEPTA must follow a prescribed process for buying property that includes researching titles, getting independent appraisals, and negotiating the price with the owners.
“It’s property by property,” Hooven said. “People have to be met with on an individual basis.”
If a deal can’t be reached, SEPTA would have the right to take property by eminent domain, which allows government agencies to pay fair market value for properties needed for public purposes.
SEPTA’s goal is to have everything acquired by the end of 2024, so construction could begin as early as 2025.