With the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act on Tuesday, the Biden administration has now enacted two pieces of legislation that will have significant infrastructure implications nationwide. What does this mean for the built environment in Philadelphia?
There are a variety of projects in the works, some of which are detailed below – and city officials hope these represent the opening salvo of more projects to come.
Some of the new funding is already included in Philadelphia’s budget since the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, often referred to as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, was signed into law last November. During a budget hearing this spring, the city’s executive director, Tumar Alexander, confirmed that $20 million in BIL funds will be distributed among 12 municipalities in the current fiscal year.
Officials estimate Philly will receive $735 million in federal funding from BIL over the next five years, according to Imani Harris, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability. It’s not guaranteed money; More than half of that number comes from competitive grants, she said, which means departments must demonstrate the ability to handle the programs they apply to.
This fiscal year, the following departments will receive funding to prepare for the bipartisan infrastructure bill “so that Philadelphia can successfully compete for federal dollars and deliver quality infrastructure projects,” according to Harris:
- Department of Streets – $15.8 million
- Procurement Department – $379,801
- Department of Commerce – $639,000
- Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability – $2.1 million
- Office of Innovation and Technology – $70,500
- Office of Human Resources – $100,000
- Legal Department – $107,250
- Risk Management Office – $155,250
- Department of Planning and Development – $137,415
- Department of Labor – $158,000
- Philadelphia Parks & Recreation – $79,542
- Office of Emergency Management – $229,750
What about confirmed projects? Here are five infrastructure programs that will impact Philadelphia residents in the near future.
Seven Safer Roads
The city was awarded $25 million for the Great Streets PHL project to make high-traffic corridors safer, particularly in neighborhoods that have historically been underserved.
A focus on underdeveloped areas is a requirement for funding from the US Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant (RAISE), which is tax-funded by BIL funds.
All of the new program’s corridors are within the city’s High Injury Network, the stretches of road with the highest fatality and serious injury rates under Philly’s Vision Zero master plan.
Road improvements are planned for these seven locations:
- Tioga Street from 5th Street to 15th Street (North Philly)
- 11th Street from Master Street to Diamond Street (North Philly)
- Limekiln Pike from Medary Avenue to Haines Street (Upper North Philly)
- Longshore Avenue from Roosevelt Boulevard to Frontenac Street (Northeast Philly)
- Westminster Avenue from 40th to 52nd Streets (West Philly)
- Springfield Avenue from 51st Street to 57th Street (West Philly)
- North 57th Street from Upland Way to Wynnefield Avenue (West Philly)
Safety “countermeasures,” as Vision Zero calls them, include automatic speed limit enforcement, speed bumps, lane narrowing, and posting speed bumps. Engineering and design of the projects will begin next year and construction will begin by 2026, spokeswoman Joy Huertas told The Inquirer.
Charging stations for electric vehicles
This is a statewide effort that will also include Philly.
the pa Department of Transportation is expected to receive $171.5 million from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure formula fund, which will go towards building electric vehicle charging stations over the next five years.
The private use of electric vehicles has recently made a significant leap. As of March 2019, fewer than 10,000 electric vehicles were registered in Pennsylvania; now it’s over 31,000. A map published in a PennDOT report shows that the majority of these vehicles are registered in the Philly area.
But there are not many places where electric car owners can charge. As of February, there were only 16 free public charging stations in the city, according to Axios. This funding could increase that number.
New amenities at PHL airport
America’s airport terminals, everyone’s favorite haunt, are getting a facelift. 85 airports are set to receive funding from BIL’s $5 billion Airport Terminals program, a series of competitive grants to be paid out over the next five years to support airport infrastructure.
Governor Tom Wolf announced last month that Philadelphia International Airport will receive $24 million from the program to support the following improvements:
- Renovation of the current 30 toilets
- Construction of two new toilets
- Five rooms for nursing mothers
- Forty-nine gender-neutral restrooms
- Three toilets for assisted care by adults
- Four animal sanctuaries
- Smart and touchless technology
All told, this will result in “13,000 square feet of additional restroom space and 35 more cabins in the PHL terminals,” according to an airport press release. Construction should end in 2026.
Righting wrongs in the built environment
The Inflation Mitigation Act provides $3 billion for Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants, funds that can be used broadly to benefit neighborhoods that have been rented apart by previous construction.
In fact, it is an extension of a similar program first launched at BIL. That first tranche of grants was $1 billion, reduced from a $20 billion request from the Biden administration when the law was being negotiated.
The US Department of Transportation describes it as a pilot program “dedicated to reconnecting communities previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure.” The idea is to “restore community connectivity by removing, upgrading, mitigating or replacing appropriate transportation infrastructure facilities.”
Philly Rep. Dwight Evans has big plans for these funds, as noted in a statement released when he voted for the IRA.
“This funding can help neighborhoods in my district like Chinatown, Nicetown and the Delaware Riverfront,” Evans wrote. “The money can be used for things like covering, removing or relocating highways and providing pedestrian access.”
The Vine Street Expressway’s division of Chinatown is a key project, as community members have campaigned to delimit I-676 for decades. Councilor Mark Squilla, who represents the area, confirmed that the city has applied for the Reconnecting Communities program.
SEPTA buses go one step further
Just this week, Senator Bob Casey announced that SEPTA will receive $23.3 million in new funding from BIL. The money comes from the US Department of Transportation’s Low-No Grant Program and the US Department of Transportation’s Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Competitive Program.
The funds will increase bus loading capacity at SEPTA’s bus facilities and support the transit agency’s transition to completely zero-emission vehicles, as well as the economic and environmental impacts Sen. Casey specifically mentioned in a statement.
“Not only will this funding help SEPTA improve its bus system, but it will also meet two key goals of the Infrastructure Act, create jobs while tackling the climate crisis.”