SEPTA shelves 22 projects because of budget

April 21, 2010

By Anthony Campisi
For PlanPhilly

Transit advocates have banded with SEPTA  to decry an impending cut in state funding.

The authority held a public hearing on its capital budget Wednesday, and thanks to a projected 25 percent cut in capital funding, SEPTA is deferring 22 projects, totaling over $700 million, including renovations to the City Hall station, the development of a smart card system and the regional rail extension to Wawa.

The budget is being reduced to $303.7 million, which will be spent on 15 projects, including the leasing of the new Silverliner V railcars and the purchase 100 new hybrid buses for $49.6 million as part of an existing contract.

Other expenditures include $24.6 million in federally mandated safety improvements to the regional rail network and $53.6 million to overhaul SEPTA vehicles.

The authority will be spending $36 million on debt service.

Advocates testifying at the hearing urged the state to come up with a way of fully funding state transportation projects in the wake of federal rejection of a plan to toll Interstate 80. Matt Mitchell of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers said the state funding gap will force SEPTA to put off “necessary repairs and improvements.”

Mitchell praised the authority for shielding its operating budget from the state funding cut under Act 44 by diverting funds normally used to support the capital budget to the operating budget. Though this will cause some projects to be deferred, he argued the move forestalled the need for a service cut.

Patricia Russell, chairwoman of the SEPTA Advisory Committee for Accessible Transportation, a group that advocates for disabled riders, said the loss of state money will hurt disabled riders, since SEPTA is being forced to put on hold accessibility initiatives at stations. She said the cut in funding will “take away some of our independence, and that’s not fair.”

In an earlier interview, Richard Burnfield, SEPTA’s CFO and treasurer, said the cut projects would be restored if the state figures out a way to restore transit funding.

Gov. Rendell is calling a special session of the state legislature on May 2 to try to find a new funding source.

Joseph O’Malley, the independent examiner selected by SEPTA to hold the hearing, will be accepting further testimony from the public until the end of business Monday. Written testimony can be submitted to SEPTA general manager Joe Casey’s office and will be forwarded to O’Malley. O’Malley will then make a nonbinding recommendation to the SEPTA Board on the proposed capital budget, and the board will vote in an upcoming meeting.

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