Norfolk Southern’s railroad plans for our community

Like many of you who attended or are aware of Tuesday night’s Norfolk Southern community meeting regarding their plans for the railway running through our neighborhoods, I was left feeling very disappointed. The meeting felt like an obligation to meet the bare minimum and your concerns were not answered or addressed. I immediately contacted the Department of Transportation to determine what role it has in this process and what was going to happen moving forward. Please know, whether we’re talking about a major public matter or an obscure issue in one neighborhood, as your state representative I will always do my best to demand answers and advocate on your behalf.

Since the community meeting, my staff and I have been in regular communication with PennDOT, including a conference call directly with Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards. During our conversation, the secretary assured me personally that PennDOT was just as unsatisfied with the meeting and that this is not how it does business. We discussed the issue in more detail, which I will explain, but I felt it was important to let you know despite what appears to be a poor start, your state government is working for you. I will continue to vigorously advocate on your behalf, as I always have, and I believe the secretary when she assured me this process is going to change course.

I know many of you submitted questions and concerns at the meeting. PennDOT promised me they were all collected and are being processed and organized so they can be answered to the best of their ability. They assured me, and asked that I assure you, those questions and concerns were not discarded. Once the department has a chance to do the work that needs to be done on their end, they will be displayed and discussed publicly.

Also, the secretary told me in no uncertain terms an impact study will be done for this project. Despite any agreement the department reaches with Norfolk Southern to finance an impact study, it will be conducted by a consultant of PennDOT’s choice. This is another important promise that addresses the serious fear this project would go forward without one. Having PennDOT choose the firm conducting the study means the minimum will not be done by a firm hired to return with predicted results, but instead a thorough and complete study of all options and each impact will be conducted. I hope this point helps ease what was one of my biggest concerns.

This project is part of a Railway Grant from the state to improve rail transport across the commonwealth. There are economic benefits, as well as benefits to keeping fewer trucks on the road, both for our roadways and environment. The grant requires a 30 percent match of funds from the private company to ensure everyone is invested in its success. That said, PennDOT claims it will not allow this to move forward until all requirements are met and the public is given ample opportunity to understand how each change would affect them, including an opportunity to respond. I requested the secretary have these meetings take place in each individual neighborhood, focusing on the portion of the project impacting them. According to PennDOT, major construction on the bridges in question would not begin until 2020, and it has promised these meetings will have occurred well before those portions of the project would begin.                                                                                                                                          

Ultimately, I felt it was very important that I find every way to provide you with as much information as possible. I hope this helps ease any alarm that these projects are about to be rammed through without any further opportunity for you to be involved. I believe the information I’ve received from PennDOT, and I think it wants to see this done right, but have no doubt that I will continue to be an activist on your behalf, however this moves forward.

State Representative Jake Wheatley Jr.

19th Legislative District