SCHUYLKILL - Twenty Chester County movers and shakers dished the inside scoop on area changes to Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce members as part of the Regional Development Forum at the Phoenixville Country Club on Wednesday night.

The Chamber program was led by Executive Director Barbara Cohen who said that the "region is exploding in many different ways." Chamber Board of Directors David Evans was moderator.

Pa. Sen. Bob Thompson (R-19) called for an increase in the gasoline tax in response to lower liquid fuel tax revenues of $11.2 million, in order to make improvements to an aging highway infrastructure.

The senator also said that he hopes to pass a new state budget by June 30.

"We won't be raising (income) taxes like last year or raising fees," he said.

Thompson also called for a scaling back of the Growing Greener project, an initiative of Gov. Ed Rendell, because doing that, he said, is preferable to "going out willy-nilly."

Pa. Rep. Carole Rubley (R-13) said that it would be "extremely foolhardy" to cut the gas tax. She advocated additional funding for public transportation and explained that the liquid fuels tax proceeds may only be used for highway projects.

She supports H.B. 994, the Transit Revitalization District Act.

"It's a way to get cars off the road," she said in support of improvements to train stations, bus stops and infrastructure.

Chester County Commissioner Carole Aichele brought news of expansion at the prison and a new county justice center and garage and Juvenile Retention Center.

She put a $10 million price tag on the garage, while she said must be constructed before groundbreaking of the justice center. She foresees a taxpayer cost of at least $80 million for the seven-story, 381,000-square-foot justice center to be located in West Chester.

Aichele explained that a new juvenile retention center in Pocopson Township will fill the role that Delaware County currently performs, and in the long run, the 48-child, short-term stay, shelter will save taxpayers cash.

Andrew Warren, Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Pennsylvania Department of Transportation director, said that the Gay Street Bridge replacement would likely be completed by late summer or fall of 2007 at a cost of more than $10 million.

"The careful design and construction will only add to the active respectability of the community," said Warren. "I've seen the growth and this bridge will be in addition to it."

Warren discussed the safety of the present span. "It looks a lot rougher than it is," he said. "We are monitoring it and it is safe and will remain safe."

Warren was strongly opposed to cutting the gas tax, while he said that 35 to 40 percent of state bridges are "structurally inefficient or functionally obsolete."

"This is a really, really, wrong-headed piece of legislation," he said. "When one's house is on fire, it's not time to think about rationing water."

Peter Quinn of The Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association Report said that a scaled-back Schuylkill Valley Metro train line might extend from Valley Forge or Norristown to Pottstown and might use both freight and passenger trains on Norfolk Southern freight tracks.

The scaled-back cost might not reach $800 million, while the original estimate was in excess of $2 billion.

Fare structures and frequency of service for the newly proposed diesel line should all be decided in less than the 10-year time frame for start of construction that was originally expected.

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