Roads, bridges, and public transit are infrastructure, but so are habitat for South Jersey box turtles and a freshwater tidal marsh in the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.
The $1 trillion federal infrastructure spending bill, finally coughed up by Congress and awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature, will invest billions in the Philadelphia region and across the United States. It will be the nation’s largest burst of infrastructure spending in decades.
One grateful beneficiary is the Delaware River Watershed Restoration Program. The watershed comprises 12,500 square miles of land in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware that ultimately drain into the river directly or through tributaries. About 15 million people depend on the Delaware River for drinking water.
“This shows a growing investment by the federal government in the land and water resources of the basin,” said Kelly Knutson, interim director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.
The package also sets aside $1 billion for a proposal developed by Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) and colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to reconnect urban neighborhoods around the nation split by highway construction years ago — places like Nicetown and Chinatown.
“It’s an issue of mobility justice,” said Evans, who highlighted the issue Tuesday at an event in Nicetown, starkly divided by the elevated portion of the Roosevelt Expressway. “When these decisions were made at the time, it was insensitive to these communities.”
Here’s how the region expects to benefit from the infrastructure bill:
$11.3 billion for highway work and $1.6 billion to replace and repair deficient bridges over five years, per the White House and state officials. About 13%, or 4,217, of Pennsylvania bridges on state, local, and federal highways are in “poor”condition, PennDot says. An estimated 7,540 miles of highway need repair.
$2.8 billion over five years to improve public transportation statewide, including SEPTA.
An extra $120 million in federal money this year, the transit authority estimates. That is on top of about $300 million SEPTA would get under existing formulas for U.S. aid to transit, reauthorized as part of the infrastructure bill.
By the 2026 fiscal year, SEPTA could have received a cumulative $540 million, in addition to its normal allotment of formula-based aid.
One important thing: SEPTA now has certainty for the next five years about its level of federal support, which will help planning.
In addition, SEPTA expects to compete for grants from the $1.75 billion All Stations Accessibility Program to retrofit older transit stations for people with disabilities. Any awards would accelerate an ongoing program to make accessible all stations on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford Lines.
SEPTA also wants to win money from a Federal Transit Administration discretionary grant program to spend on two top projects — the planned $1.8 billion modernization of its trolley network and planned $2 billion expansion of light-rail service to King of Prussia.
Federal grants require states and localities to put up matching funds.
$6.9 billion for highways and $1.1 billion for bridge repairs and replacement, according to the White House.
$4.2 billion for transit over the next five years, including NJ Transit. About 25% of New Jersey’s transit buses and trains are in need of replacement, the state says.
Among the state’s transportation priorities: $72 million needed to help complete the $900 million project connecting I-295, I-76, and Route 42 in Camden County.
$8 billion more toward the Gateway Project to improve Northeast Corridor rail connections between New Jersey and New York. Plans are to build a new two-track tunnel under the Hudson River and repair the existing tunnel, which is 100 years old and was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Some bridges in North Jersey would also be repaired.
$30 billion from an Amtrak Northeast Corridor improvement program could also go toward the massive Gateway Project. Faster trips on the corridor would benefit New Jersey’s economy as well as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s.
The $1 billion would fund a grant program for planning and construction of projects to reconnect communities. It was whittled down from Biden’s initial proposal of $20 billion. “This is a great start,” Evans said.
$4 billion for the same purpose is included in the pending Build Back Better Act, a second proposed installment of infrastructure and social spending that is now the subject of intense congressional negotiations.
Communities and states would compete for a share of the money for highway removal. As currently drafted, the legislation gives Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg wide latitude to make the grant awards.
Delaware River watershed
$26 million in supplemental funding over five years to help with wildlife conservation and environmental programs — a windfall of $5.2 million annually for the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program. The restoration program was created in 2016 and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.