Gathered at the site of a crucial SEPTA project endangered by budget cuts, Gov. Ed Rendell, Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rob Wonderling joined transit authority officials in calling for increased investment in transportation infrastructure.
The group met on Wednesday, May 5, 2010, at the Wayne Junction Substation, which powers more than 17.5 million trips every year on the Glenside-Warminster, West Trenton, Lansdale-Doylestown, Norristown, Chestnut Hill East and Fox Chase lines. The 80-year-old substation, which takes in electricity and converts it for use as traction power to move trains, is in desperate need of an overhaul. SEPTA planners intended to move ahead with the design phase this year, with an eye toward starting construction as soon as next year.
However, with $110 million – or 25 percent – cut from SEPTA’s capital budget for Fiscal Year 2011 alone due to the state’s transportation funding crisis, Wayne Junction and dozens of similar projects have been put on hold indefinitely. This stems from insufficient funding under Act 44, the state law enacted in 2007 to create a dedicated source for transportation funding throughout the Commonwealth.
To fulfill its mandate, Act 44 required the addition of tolls on Interstate 80, but the state’s application was rejected by the U.S. Department of Transportation in April. In response, Gov. Rendell is calling on Pennsylvania lawmakers to try to find alternative methods to fund the state’s transit needs.
“The one thing we can’t do is nothing,” Rendell said, emphasizing the public safety and economic impact of updating aging transit infrastructure, such as power stations and bridges.
Without full funding from Act 44, SEPTA is moving forward with a bare-bones Fiscal Year 2011 Capital Budget. More than 20 projects – representing an overall investment of $450 million in the transit system’s future, as well as the creation or support of thousands of construction-related jobs – are in limbo. These include much-anticipated projects such as new payment technology and the City Hall Station reconstruction, and less visible – but highly critical – infrastructure-related projects.
Among the major infrastructure projects SEPTA has put on hold for the upcoming year is the start of a $67 million improvement project at the Jenkintown Substation. SEPTA planned to launch a similar upgrade at the Wayne Junction Substation the following year, but without a funding solution, the future of that initiative is also in doubt. The potential impact of delaying, or abandoning, these critical substation upgrades projects is simple: The power that moves tens of thousands of customers on Regional Rail could fail, leaving residents without a way to get to work, school, medical appointments and everywhere in-between. And with budget cuts impacting all modes of transportation provided by SEPTA, the potential impact magnifies.
“Without reliable, consistent investment in SEPTA’s infrastructure, the Philadelphia region faces major service interruptions brought on by infrastructure that inevitably will break down,” said Mayor Nutter. “Interruptions in service would have a very real impact on the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on SEPTA to get to work and the thousands of businesses rely on SEPTA to bring their employees and customers to them. It’s vital that Harrisburg acts to make sure SEPTA has the revenue to keep the Philadelphia region’s economy on the move.”
SEPTA Assistant General Manager and Chief Engineer Jeffrey Knueppel noted the strides made by the transit authority in recent years to upgrade its facilities, stations and vehicle fleet system-wide. But, he said, “More needs to be done.”
“We must make significant, immediate and continued investments in our transportation infrastructure,” Knueppel said. “These investments will continue to power SEPTA as a regional force for job creation, sustainability and transportation service.”