Regional Infrastructure Outlook for 2016

Economy League managing director Nick Frontino takes a look at some of the top infrastructure issues to keep an eye on in Greater Philadelphia in 2016.


New leadership in top Philadelphia infrastructure posts


While Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney's administration is still in its infancy, his selections of top deputies have already changed the infrastructure leadership landscape in the city. Former DALE Corporation executive and Building Industry Association (BIA) president Anne Fadullon will serve as the City's first director of planning and development, a position created via a change to the city charter approved by voters in the fall. Former City Revenue Commissioner and Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson will assume the new position of deputy managing director for infrastructure and transportation. At Philadelphia International Airport, Kenney has tapped PHL chief operating officer Chellie Cameron to take over for outgoing CEO Mark Gale. In addition to overseeing the airport's day-to-day operations, Cameron will be tasked with guiding the implementation of the facility's ambitious Capacity Enhancement Program. A former deputy is also taking over the reins at the Philadelphia Water Department, where deputy commissioner and director of operations Debra McCarty has stepped into the role of Water Commissioner. McCarty succeeds Howard Neukrug, under whose leadership PWD was recognized as a national and international model for the integration of green infrastructure solutions for stormwater management through its acclaimed Green City, Clean Waters plan. McCarty is the first woman in Philadelphia history to serve as Water Commissioner. As these leaders get settled in their new roles over the next few months, we expect to learn more about the Kenney administration’s vision for and approach to infrastructure in the city.


New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund approaches insolvency (again)


Without intervention, New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund will run out of money by June 30, the end of the state's fiscal year. The fund, established in 1984 as a tool for long-term investment in transportation improvements, is leveraged to the point where nearly all dedicated annual revenues must go to debt service. With over a third of the state’s bridges classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, the lack of transportation funding is seen by some as the state’s single most pressing problem. The state Legislature overwhelmingly passed a resolution to ask New Jersey voters to constitutionally guarantee that all, as opposed to most, revenue from gas taxes go to transportation projects. Though this show of support is a good first step, the extra $40 million to $50 million would not be enough to fill the funding gap. The real task - raising the tax - will require a heavy lift from legislators during the first half of 2016.


SEPTA identifies preferred route for King of Prussia rail


Planning continues on SEPTA's proposed extension of the Norristown High Speed Line to King of Prussia. Following December’s release of the Economy League's Connecting KOP study, which evaluated the project's economic benefits, SEPTA will identify a locally preferred alternative (LPA) from the five routes currently under consideration within the first half of this year. SEPTA will hold public meetings to solicit feedback on the LPA later this year. As part of the federal process to seek New Starts funding for the extension, SEPTA will continue planning and preliminary engineering for the project. If funding is secured, the transit agency estimates that 2023 would be the earliest that KOP rail could be in operation.


Movement on Southport project?


Following years of stop-and-start attempts to expand Philadelphia’s port complex south of the Walt Whitman bridge, officials are now considering proposals from a new round of interested parties. As part of Governor Wolf’s strategic plan, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority is seeking a private concessionaire to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain up to 195 acres of PRPA owned property along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia. Six shortlisted respondents to the request for qualifications will be asked to submit financial and development plans for the riverfront property. Proposal submission is anticipated for this summer with construction on the site anticipated to begin next year. Potential uses of the vast site range from a traditional marine terminal to refined and crude oil import/export facility to warehousing and automobile processing space. Expansion could build upon the sustained growth of the Port of Philadelphia over the past five years, help facilitate export activity, and create new jobs.


 SEPTA Key makes long-awaited debut


The introduction of SEPTA's much-anticipated and long-delayed new payment technology, officially dubbed SEPTA Key, is slated for the spring of this year. With new fare collection instruments in place on SEPTA buses and trolleys and in stations along the Broad Street Line and Market Frankford El, SEPTA and vendor Xerox are now in the late stages of system testing. SEPTA Key is expected to roll out on buses, trolleys, the subway and the el within the next few months. Regional rail will see the new fare technology in 2017. The new system promises to make SEPTA's infamous tokens a thing of the past and catapult the agency into the vanguard of fare collection technology. Riders will be able to pay with a new contactless SEPTA card or via smartphone. More information is available from SEPTA here.