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SEPTA Greenlights $200M For Land Buys To Build King Of Prussia Rail Extension

SEPTA is about to go on a spending spree to secure the land it needs for bringing public transit to King of Prussia.

A rendering of the Mall Boulevard station of SEPTA's planned King of Prussia high-speed rail extension, with a pedestrian bridge to the King of Prussia mall parking lot in the left foreground.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority announced Thursday that its board has approved $200M in spending to acquire land along the 4-mile, $1.8B spur it plans to add to the Norristown High Speed Line.

The land SEPTA needs is a mixture of industrial, commercial and residential properties, including the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire company's firehouse and an adjacent Sept. 11 memorial, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

SEPTA will go through its agency-standard protocol to negotiate for the land it needs, including securing independent appraisals and meeting with individual owners, but it reserves the right to invoke eminent domain, take a property and compensate the owner with fair market value. As 90% of the extension's length is set to be elevated, most individual property transactions are expected to be quite small, the Inquirer reports.

The agency will also be making easement agreements for temporary access to land it will need to stage construction. Design on the KOP extension is 30% complete, SEPTA said in its announcement.

The agency's budget for fiscal year 2023 has laid out $390M in total spending for final design work and real estate activity. SEPTA anticipates completing all of its acquisitions and easement deals by the end of 2024 in anticipation of construction beginning in 2025, which depends on if it has secured full funding for the project.

A rendering of the First and Moore/Valley Forge station of SEPTA's King of Prussia rail extension, with a proposed parking garage in the background, next to white boxes to signify the potential for transit-oriented development.

SEPTA has applied for a New Starts Capital Investment Grant from the Federal Transit Administration to finance up to 60% of the project cost, which it listed as over $2B in its grant application, according to FTA documents. Its plan has shrunk from five to four stations since it applied for a CIG.

In recent years, King of Prussia has grown in prominence to be not just the most coveted destination for retail tenants, but for office and life sciences companies as well. The Discovery Labs, the multibillion-dollar lab and biomanufacturing facility being redeveloped at a former GlaxoSmithKline campus, is the largest ongoing project in the census-designated place within Upper Merion Township in Montgomery County. Its developer, MLP Ventures, has been buying more property nearby and growing the ambition of its project even further.

SEPTA also announced on Thursday that it has approved nearly $22M for the purchase of a former industrial property at 5100 Grays Ave. in Southwest Philadelphia. A former steel fabrication building on the site would be repurposed to house a maintenance facility for a modernized fleet of trolley cars, if negotiations with the property's current owner bear fruit. A previous attempt to buy property for the trolley modernization project failed when Amazon outbid the agency on another Southwest Philly plot for a distribution center.