Billy Penn: 5 projects moving forward in Philly thanks to new federal infrastructure funding

With Tuesday’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration has now enacted two laws that will have a sizable impact on infrastructure nationwide. What does that mean for the built environment in Philly?

There are a variety of projects in the works, a few of which are detailed below — and city officials hope these represent the opening salvo of more to come.

Some of the new funding is already included in Philadelphia’s budget, because the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, often referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, was signed last November. During a budget hearing this spring, city Managing Director Tumar Alexander confirmed $20 million of BIL funds would be dispersed between 12 city departments over the current fiscal year.

Over the next five years, officials estimate Philly will receive $735 million in federal funds from the BIL, according to Imani Harris, a spokesperson for the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability. It’s not guaranteed money; over half that figure is from competitive grants, she said, meaning departments will have to demonstrate the capacity to handle the programs they apply for.

This fiscal year, the following departments are receiving funds to prepare for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law “so Philadelphia can compete successfully for federal dollars and deliver high-quality infrastructure projects,” per Harris:

  • Department of Streets — $15.8 million
  • Department of Procurement — $379,801
  • Department of Commerce — $639,000
  • Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability — $2.1 million
  • Office of Innovation and Technology — $70,500
  • Office of Human Resources — $100,000
  • Department of Law — $107,250
  • Office of Risk Management — $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 Philadelphians in the near future.

Seven safer streets

The city received $25 million in funding for the “Great Streets PHL” project to make high-crash corridors safer, specifically in neighborhoods that have historically been underserved.

A focus on areas lacking economic development is a prerequisite for monies from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant (RAISE), which is fiscally powered by BIL funds.

All of the corridors in the new program are on the city’s High Injury Network, the portions of streets with the highest fatality and serious injury rates as part of Philly’s overall Vision Zero plan.

Roadway improvements are slated 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 Street to 52nd Street (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, will include automated speed limit enforcement, speed cushions, lane narrowing, and posting speed limits. Engineering and design on the projects will begin next year and construction will kick off by 2026, spokesperson Joy Huertas told The Inquirer.

The Pa. Department of Transportation is set to receive $171.5 million from National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure formula funds, which will go to build out charging stations for electric vehicles over the next five years.

Personal electric vehicle use has recently taken a considerable leap. In March 2019 there were fewer than 10,000 electric vehicles registered in Pennsylvania; now there are over 31,000. A map published in a PennDOT report shows that the bulk of these vehicles are registered in the Philly region.

But there aren’t that many places for electric car owners to charge up. As of February, there were just 16 free public charging stations in the city, per Axios. This funding could grow that number.

New amenities at PHL Airport

American airport terminals, everyone’s favorite place, are getting a facelift. Eighty-five airports are due to receive funds through the BIL’s $5 billion Airport Terminals Program, a series of competitive grants that will be disbursed over the next five years to aid airport infrastructure.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced last month that Philadelphia International Airport was getting $24 million from the program, to support the following improvements:

  • Renovation of the 30 current restrooms
  • Construction of two new restrooms
  • Five rooms for nursing mothers
  • Forty-nine gender-neutral restrooms
  • Three adult-assisted care restrooms
  • Four pet relief areas
  • Smart and touchless technology

All told, this will result in “13,000 square feet of additional restroom space and 35 more stalls across PHL’s terminals,” according to a press release from the airport. Construction should wrap up in 2026.

Righting wrongs in the built environment

The Inflation Reduction Act provides $3 billion for Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants, funds which can be used on a wide-ranging basis to the benefit of neighborhoods rent apart by previous construction.

Really, it’s an expansion of a similar program first introduced in the BIL. That first tranche of grants was $1 billion, pared down from a $20 billion request by the Biden administration when the legislation was being negotiated.

The U.S. Department of Transportation describes it as a pilot program “dedicated to reconnecting communities that were previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure.” The idea is to “restore community connectivity through the removal, retrofit, mitigation, or replacement of eligible transportation infrastructure facilities.”

Philly U.S. 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 capping, removing or re-locating highways, and pedestrian access.”

The Vine Street Expressway’s division of Chinatown is a key project, as community members have advocated for capping I-676 for decades. Councilmember Mark Squilla, who represents the area, confirmed that the city has applied for the Reconnecting Communities Program.

SEPTA buses take a step up

Just this week, Sen. Bob Casey announced SEPTA will receive $23.3 million in new funding from the BIL. The money comes from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Low-No Grant Program and Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Competitive Program.

Funds will boost bus charging capacity at SEPTA’s bus facilities and support the transit agency’s transition to fully zero-emission vehicles, economic and environmental impacts that Senator Casey mentioned specifically in a statement.

“This funding will not only help SEPTA improve its busing system, it will also fulfill two major goals of the infrastructure law-creating jobs while tackling the climate crisis.”