Making an Impact: SEPTA and the Federal Stimulus Program
A chronic shortage of capital funding has limited the ability of Greater Philadelphia’s transit agencies to maintain and make improvements to their infrastructure. SEPTA in particular is straddled with a substantial and growing backlog of deferred maintenance and repair projects, estimated today at a total cost of $4.7 billion. In recent years, a temporary infusion of capital dollars via the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has allowed the agency to demonstrate the impact that increased capital funding can have on system performance and reliability and to prove itself as an effective and responsible steward of funds.
The $191 million awarded to SEPTA through the ARRA program in 2009 enabled the agency to complete 33 critical state-of-good-repair projects that had been long-deferred due to a lack of available funds. To get the most out of the stimulus program, the agency worked well in advance of the distribution of ARRA funds to develop eligible “shovel-ready” projects, including the renovation of the Girard and Spring Garden stations on the Broad Street Line and the rehabilitation of several bridges on the Regional Rail system. SEPTA also improved and fast-tracked internal processes and embraced innovative project delivery methods that reduced costs and compressed implementation timelines. These controls and resulting cost savings allowed SEPTA to use ARRA funds to complete six more projects than had initially been planned under the stimulus program and complete all of its stimulus-funded projects by June 2012 – within three years of passage of the ARRA bill. In contrast, just 41% of all stimulus-funded work around the country had been completed by that point.
ARRA-related capital improvements markedly improved service reliability and the condition of SEPTA properties and vehicles. Agency surveys demonstrate increased customer satisfaction in conjunction with the stimulus investments — a correlation examined in a recent report by the Economy League and Econsult Solutions on SEPTA’s performance and impact.