Federal transit head tours SEPTA to push for infrastructure money

SEPTA has long been drawing attention to its dire funding situation.

On Monday, it got a federal assist.

Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, along with U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Phila.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), dropped in for a whirlwind tour to showcase the authority’s infrastructure needs.

Shown SEPTA’s state-of-the-art control center, where the system’s buses, trolleys, subways and trains are managed, he remarked that “it’s a very modern display for some very old [power] substations.”

Or, as general manager Joe Casey put it during a brief presentation in front of reporters: “This is probably the most modern part of our system.”

Casey and SEPTA chief engineer Jeff Knueppel repeatedly referenced the FTA’s own 2009 estimate, showing that it would cost $4.2 billion to bring the system up to a state of good repair.

Knueppel said SEPTA has $500 million worth of shovel-ready projects that are “ready to go” but have been delayed because of lack of funding. He urged Rogoff to work to pass a multi-year transportation reauthorization bill to provide the stability SEPTA needs to plan multiyear projects.

The current transportation reauthorization expired in 2009, and Congress has extended funding through short-term fixes in the meantime.

In their focus on state-of-good-repair projects, SEPTA’s leadership seemed to jive well with Rogoff’s message.

Responding to questions from reporters, Rogoff said that the tour of SEPTA’s City Hall station gave him “a better appreciation of the depth” of the funding need. A $100 million project to reconstruct that station was put on hold when the state cut infrastructure spending. A pared-down project is currently being moved forward.

Pointing to the decrepit Wayne Junction regional rail station, which is getting rebuilt partly with federal money, he said that SEPTA has “a great many Wayne Junction stations” that need to be repaired, especially in the face of rising gas prices and a desire to reduce congestion.

On their tour, Kneuppel showed Sen. Casey, Fattah and Rogoff sections of the Market-Frankford El platforms at 15th Street that are being kept up by wood supports, as well as cracks that are forming in the ceiling of the Broad Street Line’s City Hall station.

At the same time, standing on Dilworth Plaza ― about to be turned into a new grassy plaza with the help of federal stimulus money ― Rogoff said that projects “embodies so many of the elements of President Obama’s program” of modernizing infrastructure.

Mayor Nutter, who joined the tour, noted that the area would be “enormously transformed” and said that “we need to put people to work. Infrastructure investment is the best way” to do that.

On the tour, Sen. Casey, for his part, said SEPTA’s infrastructure needs are “emblematic” of the country’s.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

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