Traffic buildups return as paving and construction resume on Interstate 79, Friday, May 1, 2020, in Franklin Park, Pa. Road construction was halted in mid-March when the state ordered a stop to non-essential business to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Ryan Briggs is an investigative journalist who has covered politics, criminal justice and government policy since 2011. He has worked as a staff reporter for Next City, the Philadelphia City Paper, Philly.com and City & State PA, while contributing stories to a variety of other news outlets as a freelancer, including WHYY.
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(Philadelphia) — SEPTA is hemorrhaging money and riders thanks to the coronavirus pandemic — and now, it also faces an imminent shortfall in state transit funding that could delay critical infrastructure projects like station renovations or new vehicle purchases.
Every year, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission provides the Pa. Department of Transportation with a $450 million cash infusion to support transit. Philadelphia’s public transportation agency is the largest single beneficiary, receiving $178 million of its $640 million capital budget through these payments, made in quarterly installments.
SEPTA’s share of that quarterly payment would be roughly $44.5 million. If that money doesn’t come, station improvements, vehicle purchases, and other infrastructure upgrades slated for funding in the coming fiscal year could take a hit.
“SEPTA is aware that the Turnpike is considering postponing its July payment to PennDOT,” spokesperson Andrew Busch said. “We are in the process of identifying capital projects that may have to be delayed if there are postponements to quarterly payments.”
Turnpike Commission spokesperson Carl DeFebo said Friday that the agency was still discussing alternatives to suspending quarterly transit payments.
“It’s too soon to say. It’s been discussed as a possibility but no final decision [has been] made,” he said. “There are a number of cost-cutting tactics the commission is considering right now.”
Matt Slocum / AP Photo
FILE PHOTO: A driver enters the Pennsylvania Turnpike at a electronic interchange in Malvern.
In 2019, the PA Turnpike was already $11.8 billion in debt despite successive years of toll increases. Nearly half of that amount was due to recurring transit funding payments, the byproduct of state legislation introduced in prior years that aimed to stabilize mass transit funding.
The arrangement has long drawn controversy. Last year, motorist groups sued, seeking a refund in toll revenues that had gone to support public transit. Although the suit was later dismissed, it still resulted in delays in funding for transit agencies.