Continue to Improve State of Good Repair (Goal 10)

June 10, 2011

Pennsylvania's infrastructure is crumbling. Across the state, underfunded and aging transportation, education, water, and waste facilities have fallen into a general state of disrepair.

But according to the 2010 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Report Card for Pennsylvania's Infrastructure, the condition of its transit infrastructure is in the worst shape of all. ASCE awarded transit a "D-", reflecting an average rating of 41-69 percent of infrastructure in good condition or better. The report cited increasing transit use - but decreasing funding - as a reason for its downgrade from transit "D" grade in ASCE's 2006 Report Card.

ASCE Report Card on PA Infrastructure (2010)
Bridges C
Dams & Levees C-
Drinking Water D+
Navigable Waterways D+
Parks & Recreation B-
Freight Rail B
Roads D-
Schools B-
Solid Waste B-
Stormwater D-
Transit D-
Wastewater D+

Bringing mature and expansive rail systems like SEPTA up to a state of good repair is an expensive proposition. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Rail Modernization Study, delivered to Congress in 2009, outlines $50 billion in need for the seven largest rail transit agencies in the United States. This total aggregates only rail-related infrastructure needs.

Breakdown of SEPTA Backlog in Rail-Related Capital Need
Source: SEPTA Capital Budgets Department

The reason for the significant backlog is that SEPTA inherited an enormous backlog of maintenance tasks that previous transportation providers had deferred. Between 1964 and 1983, SEPTA assumed ownership and operation of various transportation companies, including the Philadelphia Transit Company (PTC), the Philadelphia and Western Railroad (P&W or Red Arrow), and a commuter railroad system from Conrail that was originally constructed by the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads. SEPTA has spent billions of dollars bringing the infrastructure into a state of good repair. However, with the age of the system, there are still many basic infrastructure investments that must be made in order to maintain safe and reliable service.

What Happens If We Don't Invest?

While all of SEPTA's infrastructure is regularly monitored and currently safe for passengers and employees, the reality is that many major system components still require significant investment.

For example, most of the electrical substations on SEPTA's regional rail system have been running continuously since they were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. With many now more than 75 years old, these mission-critical systems are not only aging, but they are unique and difficult to replace. Targeted investments are necessary to ensure long-term system stability.

Another area of focus is bridge infrastructure. For example, four viaducts along SEPTA's Media/Elwyn Line were built between 1881 and 1904, and are all now more than 100 years old. SEPTA actively monitors and maintains these spans, but ultimately significant capital investment is necessary to avoid deterioration of the aging, outdated structures.

In all cases, as SEPTA's infrastructure continues to age, deferred capital improvement projects can quickly become far more expensive emergency repair or heavy maintenance projects. Achieving an infrastructure state of good repair is necessary not only to provide more reliable service, but also to reduce the ongoing costs of operating and maintaining SEPTA's system.

Target

SEPTA is a committed stakeholder in the City of Philadelphia's Greenworks goal to achieve an 80 percent state of good repair among resilient infrastructure by 2015. SEPTA has established a complementary target to increase its own infrastructure to an 80 percent state of good repair by 2015. Performance will be measured based on available data related to infrastructure condition.

A Plan to Improve Performance

Continue to invest in state of good repair projects. SEPTA prioritizes a "fix-it-first" approach to state of good repair initiatives in its capital budget. In its $303.7 million budget for FY2011, more than 80 percent of its funds are programmed towards either normal replacement or state of good repair projects, with less than 20 percent targeted for system improvements or expansion.

Develop a robust capital project pipeline. With federal and state budget cuts in effect, SEPTA depends increasingly on funding received from capital grants. Meanwhile, the landscape of federal policy is changing, with funding agencies moving from formula-based grants to competitive project-based grants. Applications must be completed with short turnaround time, so grant awards necessarily favor agencies that maintain a pipeline of ready-to-go capital projects. In order to remain competitive in grant applications, SEPTA has established a catalogue of shovel-ready projects and will maintain it to develop a process for compiling grant applications with maximum interdepartmental input.

Invest in transit asset management. In 2010, SEPTA received a competitively awarded grant from the Federal Transit Administration to implement a transit asset management (TAM) system. Upon implementation, the TAM system will streamline SEPTA's capital planning process and simplify investment prioritization by organizing data in a way that allows managers to compare need and direct funding to yield the greatest return.

What's Next

Next week, we'll describe SEPTA's ongoing efforts to improve its operating expense performance and maintain its place among the most cost effective transit agencies in the United States. In particular, we'll describe a number of initiatives to proactively address constraints imposed by an operating environment that results in relatively slow service speeds and a drain on budgetary resources.

Next Week: Improving Operating Expense Performance (Goal 11)