After two years of prosperity, SEPTA officials are returning to a familiar lament: We need more money.
Without income that was expected from new tolls on I-80 - which the federal government has not allowed - SEPTA stands to lose about $120 million a year, starting next July, SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey said yesterday.
That could mean big-ticket projects, such as the remodeling of the City Hall subway concourse or a long-awaited electronic fare system, would have to wait, he said.
Casey said he wants Pennsylvania's congressional delegation to present a "consistent message" to the U.S. Department of Transportation that the I-80 tolls are necessary.
That is unlikely, given the resistance to I-80 tolls along the interstate's corridor through northern Pennsylvania. There, residents and businesses fear tolls on I-80 would cripple the local economy.
"We are as determined as ever to make sure this doesn't happen," Jordan Clark, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R., Pa.), said last month. "I don't see why they think they have a more sympathetic ear with this administration than with the Bush administration."
State turnpike and highway officials said last month they would try again to get federal permission for I-80 tolls.
Without tolls on I-80, the transportation funding from the Turnpike Commission will be cut in half to $450 million a year beginning next July.
Among the biggest losers would be SEPTA, which would lose $110 million in funding for capital projects and $10 million for operating costs, SEPTA's chief financial officer, Rich Burnfield, said.
"The crisis is on the capital side - that's 25 percent of our capital budget," Burnfield said. The capital budget pays for such non-operating costs as new equipment, stations, and buildings.
Some capital projects mandated by law, such as signal upgrades and automatic train control, will have to go forward. Others, like the $70 million City Hall concourse remake or the $100 million earmarked for a new fare system, might have to wait, SEPTA officials said.
"I don't care where the money comes from, as long as it's dedicated and predictable," Casey said.