Philadelphia transit also hobbled by money woes

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

While Port Authority's financial problems have been mostly confined to the operating budget, SEPTA in Philadelphia is suffering from a shrinking capital budget. The closure of a major rail bridge planned for next summer is another indication of the consequences of Harrisburg's long-standing neglect of transportation infrastructure, and only increases the pressure on Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature to accomplish something meaningful early in the new year. Here's a Philadelphia Inquirer story by Paul Nussbaum about crumbling SEPTA:

SEPTA plans to close the 3,175-foot-long bridge that carries Norristown High-Speed Line trains over the Schuylkill, the first in what could be a cascade of cutbacks caused by a lack of money, the agency said Thursday.
The 101-year-old Bridgeport Viaduct will be closed next summer, when warmer temperatures cause tracks to expand and pull free of steel spikes in rotted wooden ties, SEPTA chief engineer Jeff Knueppel said.
The bridge carries about 2,400 passengers a day to and from the Norristown Transportation Center. Buses will be used to carry passengers over an adjacent highway bridge while the rail bridge is closed, SEPTA officials said.
Emergency repairs last month, including gluing spikes in place, will allow the bridge to be kept open until summer, Knueppel said. Train speeds on the bridge have been reduced to 15 m.p.h. from 25.
It would cost about $7 million to replace the 1,708 wooden ties and an additional $23 million to repair and repaint the bridge, he said. That would mean closing the bridge for at least four months.
But SEPTA officials said the bridge may remain closed indefinitely, because they don’t have the money to fix it.
And the closing could be followed by the shutdown of other bridges and facilities, as SEPTA’s backlog of unfunded construction projects continues to grow.
“This is just the start,” SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. “Pat” Deon said Thursday. “There can be a ripple effect out through the rest of the system.”
SEPTA relies on state funds for most of its capital budget, the money that goes for vehicles and big construction projects.
Although ridership is at a 23-year high, SEPTA’s capital budget is at a 15-year low, at $303 million.
Deon and other SEPTA officials Thursday said a new state transportation-funding plan, for public transit as well as highways, is crucial to maintaining the region’s rail, subway, and bus network.
As Gov. Corbett and state lawmakers prepare to tackle transportation funding as part of next year’s state budget, SEPTA officials worry that rural lawmakers will push for more funding for highways but not for transit systems.
The Bridgeport Viaduct is the poster child for SEPTA’s financial woes.
Last year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stood in the shadow of the bridge to make a last-minute pitch for an unsuccessful Obama administration effort to get Congress to provide $50 billion for transportation projects.
The bridge was built by the Philadelphia & Western Railway in 1911.


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Drivers will get an extended holiday from Squirrel Hill Tunnel construction, with no restrictions planned from Saturday morning through Jan. 1, PennDOT announced today.

The inbound tunnel will have single-lane traffic starting at 9 p.m. daily through Friday, with the restriction lifted by 5 a.m. the following day, except Saturday, when it will end at 10 a.m.

The outbound tunnel will be down to one lane at 11 p.m. daily through Friday, with both lanes open at 5 a.m. the following day, except Saturday, when the restriction will stay in place until 10 a.m.

Overnight single-lane traffic will resume in both directions on Jan. 2.

The other good news coming from PennDOT is that the Fancourt Bridge, that tiny Downtown structure whose closure caused daily traffic jams, will be back open late in the afternoon Friday.

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