A recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the progress – or lack thereof – on the Philadelphia International Airport expansion project indicates several potential complications that could swing attention back towards the former JRB Willow Grove property as an alternative for relieving overcrowded airspace at PHL:
- The overall cost of the project has already increased by over $1 billion dollars, supposedly due to escalation of costs for the project that was originally priced in 2005 dollars.
- Local authorities, Delaware County and airport representatives have been discussing how to minimize – if not completely remove – the need for eminent domain claims on Tinicum homes and businesses. This effort entails a tradeoff between the size of the footprint needed for a new UPS and what land is currently available to meet those needs.
- UPS – on the other hand – has not yet agreed to move. They naturally need to ensure that whatever land is offered to them will meet their operational needs. UPS currently holds 212 acres at PHL.
But the real eye-opener is U.S. Airways view, expressed by V.P. of corporate real estate, Michael Minerva in a July 2010 letter to PHL CEO, Mark Gale stating that the new runway alone would not greatly alleviate delays “until there is a solution to local airspace congestion.”
I bring this up as a warning to avoid complacency now that development plans for the JRB Willow Grove property are moving forward. As a community we must approach the development process with flexibility and a willingness to compromise on our personal preferences for the future of the airbase.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the town center concept, if it should include high-density housing and retail space that would exacerbate the traffic problems on Rts. 611 and 463. But my complete satisfaction with the final redevelopment plan is – and should be – secondary to developing a plan that allows Horsham to move forward and eliminate the possibility of intrusion from outside forces looking to resurrect the airport issue.
My bet is that we have not heard the last from airport proponents – both private advocacy groups and public agencies – who view the former airbase as an attractive regional aviation asset. The next challenge will probably come from Washington, D.C. when the redevelopment plan is presented to the U.S. Navy for its approval.
The danger for Horsham is to become wrapped around its proverbial axle in arguments and intractability on how the property is developed. Threats could come our way from regional and national authorities looking for a quick fix to alleviate airspace congestion in the skies around PHL. An abandoned runway within 20 miles of Philadelphia – and 8000 feet long at that! – will be hard for them to resist.
The next meeting of the HLRA is this Wednesday, October 19.
The HLRA Board, Horsham Township Council, Horsham Township Planning Commission and the HLRA sub-committees will be discussing the three Base Reuse Alternatives and providing information to RKG Associates, the consultant, on how to move forward towards the goal of creating the Preferred Redevelopment Plan.
It is crucial that Horsham residents stay connected and involved with the HLRA process.
Our work is nowhere near done!