Friday, October 15, 2004


You had to see this coming...

The website reports major problems with the reconstruction of the Market St El. Apparently, some members of the state's congressional delegation are less than thrilled with delays to the project, to say nothing about the long running complaints of people along the Market St corridor in West Philadelphia:

Nearly two years behind schedule, the $74 million Market-Frankford El reconstruction in West Philadelphia is in such dire straits that seven area congressmen have asked the Federal Transit Administration to review SEPTA's management of the project.

The delay also has placed businesses near 63d and Market in dire straits. Nick Millas' Galaxy Diner no longer serves soup or dinner and closes two hours earlier. Wanda Glover's beauty salon a few doors away used to have eight stylists. Today, she is the only one.

A bitter dispute between the transit agency and PKF-Mark III, its Bucks County prime contractor, has stalled a new El and two stations between the city's Cobbs Creek section and Delaware County. As a result, the U.S. House members asked whether the entire $567 million El project was "still a priority."

"We invite any public scrutiny of this project," said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney, adding that he was not able to say how much additional money the delays might cost. He said transit agency officials had briefed FTA staff on the matter. "We would be more than pleased to sit down with the congressional delegation."
What the Minister of Mis-Information really meant: "We'll tell you what you want to hear so we can get more money from Washington."

The project, which began in 2000, calls for demolishing the dilapidated two-column El in West Philadelphia, adding a sleek one-column guideway, and rebuilding two stations between 63d Street and Millbourne - while keeping the current elevated train in operation. Its completion date was 2006; now it is 2008, barring any more problems.

PKF, the sole bidder, faults SEPTA's approach, saying the agency's actions range from bureaucratic indifference to micro-management.

"It is not unusual to have issues like this. What is unusual is not to be able to resolve them in a timely fashion to progress the work," PKF president Peter Getchell said in an interview. "SEPTA does not seem to have any priority in getting this project done."
No, SEPTA's priority is extorting more money from Harrisburg. And micro-management? Where have we heard that complaint before?

SEPTA officials insist that PKF has failed to manage the project with a focus on quality and the safety of about more than 100,000 daily El passengers.

"We are not talking about an isolated case," said Dominic Sabatini, SEPTA capital-projects manager. "When it is pervasive, it is a problem."

SEPTA said a number of issues, including 43 of 56 steel support beams that were unsafe to PKF's not having the proper drawings, often took months to solve - if they were solved at all.

Three other projects to rebuild the El in West Philadelphia are proceeding satisfactorily, Sabatini said. But work on the Cobbs Creek end, he added, is at "an extremely slow pace."

Construction is so slow and causing customers such headaches that Millas, 40, is considering closing his diner, which his father opened 40 years ago.

"Business has dropped 50 percent since the project began," said Millas, a Drexel Hill resident. "My clientele is elderly, and they can't get here. Half the places on the block are either closed or they moved. See, these are my worry beads. My stress level is way up. My business, it's dying.

"I'd sell, but who'd buy it?"
Good question...

Glover, 41, of the Northeast, said that with SEPTA's help she was moving next month to 60th Street because her customers just wouldn't come to Market Street anymore. She's been there six years.

"People don't want to be hassled, and then they can't find a parking place," she said. "People can't afford to get their hair done and pay a parking ticket."
Can't imagine what's worse: dealing with SEPTA or the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Yeah, I can see how that's a tough decision to have to make...

Grants from the FTA pay 80 percent of the half-billion-dollar bill to renew the nearly century-old rail line, supplemented with state and local money.

Among items in dispute are massive steel beams fabricated by High Steel Structures Inc. in Lancaster, a PKF subcontractor based in U.S. Rep. Joseph Pitts' [R-16th] district.

"I think SEPTA has done a poor job in managing this project. I would love the FTA to look into this and get to the bottom of it," Pitts said. "We stand to lose a lot of federal funds in this project. We could, if this is mismanaged."

His staff wrote the two-page letter late last week to FTA chief Jenna Dorn. It was also signed by U.S. Reps. Jim Gerlach [R-6th], Curt Weldon [R-7th], Bob Brady [D-1st], Jim Greenwood [R-8th], Chaka Fattah [D-2nd] and Joseph Hoeffel [D-13th - for now].

"What oversight does FTA have on this project to ensure that federal grant money... is not squandered or wasted?" the letter asked. "If it is determined that irreconcilable differences exist between SEPTA and PKF, what recourse does the FTA have...?"

The matter is under review, FTA spokesman Paul Griffo said.
Which means we may not hear from the FTA again for a long time, if at all...

Brady, a Democrat, said he was happy to sign the letter offered by Pitts, a Republican.

"I would have signed it three times," he said. "My constituents should be strangling me for what's happening. It's an absolute disgrace what SEPTA is doing to businesses there."

Gerlach is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His spokesman, John Gentzel, said the Chester County Republican wanted to be certain that SEPTA wisely managed federal money. The letter was signed at Pitts' request, he added.
Let me give Congressman Gerlach a simple answer to his question: No. The first-term congressman should also be aware that this is the same agency that botched (big time) the $chuylkill Valley rail project - which would directly benefit his district, BTW - to the point where it may never get built.

SEPTA's Maloney said that the transit agency's "overriding concern is replacing a structure 100 years old with another structure that we hope lasts 100 years. It has to be done right, it has to be done right the first time and it has to designed and constructed safely." Inquirer
And it will probably be completed by 2010 at this current pace. Incidentially, SEPTA's propaganda web page for the Market St El project indicates that four of the six stations on the Market St El - Millbourne, 63 St, 56 St and 46 St - were to have been closed for six months (not all at once obviously) over the next four years; Millbourne was to have been closed for a six month last year; 63 St was to have closed this year. Obviously, that hasn't taken place.

Stay tuned. Like every other SEPTA capital project, this has fiasco written all over it...

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