Paving the Way to Regional Growth

I’ll be honest – infrastructure is not the sexiest topic in the world. A good many of us have a hard time getting excited about railways, roads, ports, and airports – let alone sewer systems and electrical lines.


But while infrastructure may not be the conversation topic of choice at your average party, it’s hard to discount the role that modern transportation, water, and energy systems play in allowing us to go about our everyday lives. Together, these systems constitute a sort of physical operating platform that makes possible nearly everything we do. Consider for a moment what your life would be like without access to roads and transit, the electrical grid, water supply and wastewater management systems. Admit it – you’d have a hard time doing much of anything.


In Greater Philadelphia, where a legacy of prior investments has endowed us with extensive infrastructure assets, it’s easy to take all of this for granted. After all, when it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, infrastructure fades into the background, quietly enabling us to get where we need to go, use power, access clean water, and dispose of waste with minimal effort.


It’s when these systems don’t perform as we expect them to – when they malfunction, break down, or just don’t operate with the efficiency we are accustomed to – that most of us start to pay attention. And in our region, where much of our infrastructure is aging and in deteriorating condition, the prospects for these types of interruptions are growing greater every day. Such interruptions can go far beyond being minor inconveniences – infrastructure that doesn’t meet the needs of local businesses or communities can inhibit economic growth and severely compromise quality of life.


This is why business and civic leaders in our region identified infrastructure as one of three long-term priorities for Greater Philadelphia through the World Class initiative.


The big challenge is that, by and large, our region’s infrastructure is old. Just about every type of publicly owned physical infrastructure in our region is of an advanced age. The average water line in the City of Philadelphia is roughly 78 years old, a fact brought to the forefront by the recent spate of water main breaks in the city. SEPTA’s aging facilities and vehicles require $4.7 billion in investment to be brought up to a state of good repair. Our bridges are aging too: according to Transportation for America, one out of every four bridges used by motorists in Pennsylvania is likely to be deteriorating.


Finding funding to make the investments necessary to keep these systems up and running to a high standard is an enormous challenge that will need to be addressed jointly at the national, state, and regional levels. Here in Greater Philadelphia, we must work together to find ways to both fill immediate funding gaps and remain focused on long-term investments that will make our region a great place to live, work, and play for generations to come. A sustained push by business and civic leaders in support of priority infrastructure investments for Greater Philadelphia will go a long way in helping to overcome the considerable challenges confronting the region today.


Developing a shared agenda for this work was the charge of the World Class Infrastructure Strategy Team, convened over the past six months by the Economy League in conjunction with ULI Philadelphia. We were delighted to have three dynamic co-chairs at the helm of this team in Tony Bartolomeo of Pennoni Associates, Antonio Fiol-Silva of Wallace Roberts Todd, and Bill Rhodes of Ballard Spahr. They led a cross-sector group of more than 50 business executives, civic leaders, and issue experts in an effort to identify strategies to strengthen Greater Philadelphia’s global and national connections; ensure that our transportation networks provide for reliable and efficient regional mobility; and modernize our water and energy infrastructure and other key sustainable systems.


The Team’s recommendations serve as the basis for a Global Positioning Strategy (GPS) for World Class Infrastructure that we will release online over the course of the coming weeks and formally introduce at a showcase event featuring Governor Ed Rendell on June 20 at the Independence Visitor Center. This Infrastructure GPS will complement previously released World Class GPSes focused on education & talent development and business growth. It will help focus and guide business and civic collaboration and dialogue about the critical infrastructure improvements that we must make as a region in order to remain competitive and become an even more attractive place to live and do business. 


We will be publishing the Infrastructure GPS and rolling out content in a special series of newsletters over the next few weeks, so keep an eye out as we integrate discussion of infrastructure priorities into the ongoing conversation about what we need to focus on together to make our Greater Philadelphia a World Class Greater