Crumbling bridges, deteriorating platforms, ancient power systems. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the nation’s sixth largest transportation agency, provides safe, reliable service for 1.1 million people a day despite the serious challenges presented by an aging infrastructure with many vital components that are upwards of 100 years old.
On July 11, FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff traveled to Philadelphia to see firsthand the extent of SEPTA’s needs and to discuss the importance of investing in America’s aging mass transportation systems. In 2009, the FTA estimated it would cost $4.2 billion to bring SEPTA’s infrastructure up to a “State of Good Repair.”
[IMAGE]SEPTA-FTA3HeatherBlogAug192011EDIT.jpg[/IMAGE] “We do a meticulous job of maintaining our system, but we are running out of time,” SEPTA Chief Engineer and Assistant GM Jeffrey Knueppel said during a briefing attended by Rogoff, U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. and U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah at SEPTA headquarters. “The system will start to shrink if we don’t make improvements now.”
“We have a very old system, some of which has operated far beyond its useful life,” said SEPTA GM Joseph Casey. “We have an extensive list of needs and many projects ready to begin, but cannot proceed with the work without adequate funding.”
When it was established by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1964, SEPTA inherited the wire systems, bridges, substations, viaducts and stations originally built by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co., Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Co., Philadelphia and Western Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Railroad. Many of the incorporated facilities date to the mid-1800s and were not well maintained by previous owners.
Held in SEPTA’s Control Center, where supervisors and dispatchers from different transit modes monitor and keep the authority’s system moving, the briefing gave Casey and Knueppel the opportunity to describe the extensive renovation and maintenance projects SEPTA has been able to undertake with previous funding from the FTA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other sources, as well as detail the most pressing of SEPTA’s infrastructure needs.
“Our 32 ARRA projects are about 90 percent complete and our customers have appreciated the work we have been able to do,” said Casey. “Our ridership has steadily increased over the last year. However, without funding for our infrastructure needs, we are not going to be able to serve our current and future passengers.”
[IMAGE]SEPTA-FTA2-HeatherBlogAug192011EDIT.jpg[/IMAGE] Following the briefing, SEPTA officials led Rogoff on a tour of some of the authority’s region-wide facilities: City Hall Station, Philadelphia; Jenkintown Traction Power Substation, Montgomery County; Paoli Station, Chester County; Norristown High Speed Line, Montgomery County; and 69th Street Transportation Center, Delaware County.
Rogoff was amazed by what he saw on his tour. He even took a piece of a crumbling Norristown High Speed Line bridge with him to show officials in Washington, D.C., the necessity of investing in mass transportation.
“I’m really struck by how fragile the infrastructure is that is supporting millions of passengers,” Rogoff told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We will continue to focus on state of good repair issues — they’ve been ignored too long.”
Funding cuts have forced SEPTA to defer dozens of improvement projects. This can lead to expensive emergency repairs and heavy maintenance work. Further delays could result in major service disruptions.
“At best, we face speed and weight restrictions and short-term service interruptions,” said Casey. “At worst, we have long term service disruptions with a major economic impact on the Delaware Valley. We need to get started on this work now.”
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What do transit authorities like SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART have in common other than transporting thousands, even millions of riders every day? All were recently ranked as four of the U.S.’s 500 “Best Employers” by Forbes magazine.
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