The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was passed by Congress on Dec. 3 and signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 4, 2015 will provide essential, long-term federal funding for critical transportation needs — $305 billion over five years.
With more money from the federal level, transit agencies will be able to make crucial infrastructure fixes, replace vehicles and possibly dust off “wish list” improvements projects long-shelved due to lack of capital. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) knows what a difference government support of public transportation can make.
“Two years ago, we had a $5 billion state-of-good-repair backlog that was estimated to grow to at least $6.5 billion by 2023 without additional capital funding,” said SEPTA GM Jeff Knueppel. “We had been experiencing record ridership, especially on our Regional [commuter] Rail lines, but without money for infrastructure repairs and aging vehicle replacement, the authority would have been forced to implement a drastic Service Realignment Plan that would have greatly downsized the SEPTA rail network over 10 years.”
Fortunately for riders in the five-county Greater Philadelphia Region served by SEPTA, the authority did not have to enact its “Doomsday” plan. In Nov. 2013, the bipartisan Pennsylvania state legislature passed Act 89, providing $2.3 billion for the Commonwealth’s transit systems and highways. SEPTA projected that within five years of Act 89’s passing, the authority’s annual Capital Budget would exceed $600 million — more than double the $300 million annual amount SEPTA had available for improvements in each of four years prior to the legislation.
“We were ready to put our new funding to use immediately,” said Knueppel. “We had basic infrastructure projects that would preserve the safety of our system ready to go — all we needed was the capital.”
In December 2013, SEPTA unveiled its aggressive new capital campaign, now known as “Rebuilding the Future.” “Now we’re using funds to make sure the ‘Doomsday’ plan doesn’t come true,” said Knueppel.
“This is an exciting time for our organization, our riders and our region,” Knueppel added. “We are not just replacing infrastructure and vehicles in kind; we are doing our projects with safety, customer experience and capacity enhancements in mind.”
Congress’ passage of the FAST Act will help SEPTA continue its capital improvements programs for the foreseeable future. “We are fortunate to be represented in Congress by members who recognize the important role of public transportation,” said Knueppel. “Investing in infrastructure and new vehicles enhances service for SEPTA’s more than 1.1 million daily riders and is critical to the region’s economic competitiveness.”
Heather Redfern is the Public Information Manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.