Jay Arzu, a second-year Ph.D. student at Penn’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design, is leading a campaign to build a new subway line in northeast Philadelphia.
The proposed line, which will be called the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway, would stretch as far north as Neshaminy in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and continue south to downtown, according to Arzu. The line will also connect to the Broad Street line and extend the Market-Frankford line by one mile. The line — which could take the form of an elevated line or a subway — would provide residents of northeast Philadelphia with faster, more convenient transportation to downtown, Arzu said.
“Northeast Philadelphia is an area with a population of 500,000. It’s bigger than the island of Manhattan, and public transportation is very, very poorly connected to the rest of the city,” Arzu said.
While also working on his Ph.D. in urban and regional planning in Weitzman, Arzu leads the campaign for the Roosevelt Boulevard line with the support of Pennsylvania State Rep. Jared Solomon and 5th Square, Philadelphia’s city-planning political action committee. After Arzu began campaigning for the project in February 2022, he worked with the group to hold a public town hall on August 27 to gauge community opinion.
“I was nervous to see how many people would come. Would people actually show up and show their faces for something like that? So I arrived and people started pouring in, and the room was booked for seats. standing up,” Arzu said of the Aug. 27 town hall.
At City Hall, there was a whiteboard with three options: ‘subway’, ‘elevated rail’ and ‘improve bus service’, where participants could count their votes. The majority of people counted their votes under an elevated rail or subway, which are “kind of interchangeable” because the Roosevelt Boulevard subway could be a subway that turns into an elevated rail, Arzu said.
“People were so excited about the subway idea,” Arzu said.
One of the main reasons for building the subway line is to reduce traffic on Roosevelt Boulevard, a 12-lane highway that contains some of the nation’s most dangerous intersections, designated by State Farm Insurance.
Arzu says the line is especially important to minority communities that have settled in northeast Philadelphia. For people without a car, the drive from Northeast Philadelphia to downtown can take over an hour. With the new line, the trip would take 35 minutes, says Arzu. He adds that it’s important that people who don’t have cars can also access opportunities in the city and that people in other areas of Philadelphia can access the culture of Northeast Philadelphia.
“I would say most Penn students have never been to Northeast Philadelphia because the commuter rail lines that run there are not suitable for anyone,” Arzu said.
Although the majority of the community supports the establishment of the Roosevelt Boulevard subway, the team faces several challenges, such as the cost of the line. According to Arzu, the price of the project will probably cost between 7 and 10 billion dollars.
Arzu referenced the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank as the source of financing for the project, from which Philadelphia would obtain a low-interest loan to build the subway. However, the line’s expected price will only increase over time, Arzu said.
“What has to happen is there has to be a way to get full funding early on, because otherwise Philadelphia can’t afford it,” Arzu said. “The State of Pennsylvania can’t afford it. We need everyone to come together. »
Another challenge for the project is to obtain the cooperation of SEPTA. According to Arzu, SEPTA has other priorities, such as the King of Prussia Rail. The King of Prussia Rail will carry about 4,000 passengers, while a 1999-2003 study predicted 124,500 passengers for the Roosevelt Boulevard subway.
The metro must also be approved by the government with an environmental impact statement, a process that can take three to five years.
Arzu added that the physical construction of the metro would be a “huge effort” if approved, but would create thousands of jobs and economic development.
“I put my feet on the pavement because I know the process of bringing the community together is going to take so long. Meanwhile, there are community members who need the subway today. I fight every day,” Arzu said.