Stimulus spent in record time, SEPTA wants more

Three years after SEPTA received $191 million under the economic stimulus program signed by President Barack Obama, all 32 projects have been completed, including upgrades to key stations, vital track work and the purchase of new hybrid buses.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was intended to spur job creation through “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects. SEPTA attributed the quick turnaround to planning by its staff, noting that all 54 contracts were signed within the first year.

“We got the contracts out there awarded quickly. The bulk of that spending was all within that first year, year and a half, as was our completing the projects,” said Bob Lund, SEPTA’s program manager for stimulus projects. “Thirty-two projects is a lot.”

The funding helped upgrade some parts of the system in dire need, including improvements on the Broad Street Line at Girard and Spring Garden stations, where new entrances, walls, floors and elevators were installed. The project modernized stations that were built between 1928 and 1932.

“They were really quite successful in getting funding and getting prepared in getting jobs out the door,” said Dick Voith, who specializes in transportation as senior vice president and principal of Econsult Corp. “They really did everything right.”

The Federal Transit Administration could not say how many transit agencies have completed their projects, but as of March 31, only 41 percent of all stimulus-funded work had been completed. Another 45 percent was more than halfway finished.

Lund said the projects directly resulted in 3,160 construction jobs, although he could not say how many of those were “new” jobs. Voith, a former SEPTA board member, estimates the economic impact was much greater.

“Given the fact that SEPTA managed to spend that much money quickly in an industry that has a lot of suppliers around here … I think that 3000-job number is a woeful underestimation,” he said.

Turning success into more cash

SEPTA is hopeful its workmanlike pace in using the stimulus funds will improve its chance to receive additional federal funding.

“We have demonstrated to the state and federal government, as well as the local entities, that if given the opportunity and the funding we can effectively and efficiently execute projects in a timely manner,” Lund said.

Last year, SEPTA received a $2.2 million competitive grant from the FTA for the Parkside Bus Loop, which Lund attributed to SEPTA’s track record.

Federal transit officials would not comment on how SEPTA’s stimulus work might affect future funding opportunities, but acknowledged their good work.

“[SEPTA] put more than $191 million to good use on projects that will improve the reliability, accessibility, and safety of its system for riders,” FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said via e-mail.

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