Context - Fall 2016 - 11


Efficient transport plays a vital role in improving our quality
of life and building a strong economy. As more people modify
their travel habits by choosing alternative transit modes, infrastructure
must adapt as well. To better understand the changing transportation
infrastructure landscape in the Philadelphia region, we talked with Barry
Seymour, Executive Director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning
Commission (DVRPC), whose influence is seen in many projects that are
shaping the future of the region's transportation network.
Over the past twenty-five years of his tenure at DVRPC, Barry has
supported decisive infrastructure planning and organized major projects,
especially this past decade as Executive Director. Overseeing nine counties across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, composed of 352 local governments, he is charged with the responsibility to empower the region
to craft and implement a vision crystallized in Connections 2040, the
long-range plan for the future growth and development of the region.
This is no small feat. Along with assisting local government and regional
infrastructure planning, he coordinates conversations between the
organizations with responsibility for regional transportation - including
have different priorities and motivations. With so many players at the
table, his role is to understand these priorities and support impactful
projects, while recognizing, and effectively communicating, funding
limitations, or as Barry put it himself, "that you can't always get what
you want, but you can get what you need."
Much of our transportation infrastructure, historically among the
most extensive and advanced in the nation, is now reaching the end
of its lifespan, and the question of its maintenance or replacement has
become critical. However, don't think that Philadelphia is simply falling
behind while cities like Denver and Los Angeles are unveiling brand new
systems. "All they are trying to do is play catch up with us," argues
Barry, "from their perspective, we are light-years ahead of where they
are." With that being said, it's a fact that our transit infrastructure is
aging and requires investment to bring it up to the state of good repair
and takes greater funds to maintain it into the future. DVRPC's funding
and resource allocations is a testament to the gravity of this issue: With
over $1 billion spent each year on infrastructure, around 75% of that
spending is on maintenance.
While the bulk of Barry's energy goes into "state of repair" projects,
he acknowledges the necessity to invest in the future. To deliver on the
increasing demand for efficient transportation capacity and support
growth and economic development, there are grand plans to extend
SEPTA services throughout the Philadelphia region. Planning is underway
to have trains reach out to King of Prussia, as well as expansions in Bucks
County and West Chester. Similarly, DVRPC has mapped out a new
train service for the disconnected Navy Yard. But you can't think about
the future without discussing sustainable development. Even though
DVRPC is transit focused, they work on green infrastructure projects,
such as open space protection initiatives, green streets, transit, bicycle,
and pedestrian planning, as well as programs in food system planning,
smart growth, energy efficiency, and climate change.

When asking him what he sees as the greatest development since
his start at DVRPC, it was surprising to hear that it had nothing to do
with big infrastructure projects, but funding. In a region infamous for
its underfunded transportation infrastructure, Barry has made a point
in his career to find ways to close the funding gap. He instituted the
Transportation and Community Development Initiative (TCDI): a planning
grant to support smart growth of individual municipalities by providing
funding for local initiatives. Through TCDI, DVRPC offers the needed
assistance to smaller localities to support their infrastructure visions
within the larger framework of Connections 2040. "That connection
wasn't there before," explains Barry, "while [DVRPC] can plan and work
with partners on larger-scale projects, most of transportation network is
actually at the local level." Since the program began in 2002, $16 million
has been distributed to over 230 communities across the region. Barry
highlighted one of many significant projects from TCDI. "We created
a system of trails across the region called The Circuit, which will be a
750 mile network of interconnected trails. This is not built all at once
or by just one entity. Ultimately it is built by dozens, if not hundreds, of
different organizations and groups. What we can do at a regional scale
is to define that vision and direct funding to projects that will build a
larger network over time."
But a real game-changer, he says, was the passage in 2013 of Act
89 in Pennsylvania, which dedicates a significant long-term and stable
increase in funding to transportation infrastructure. The addition of
the $2.3 billion per year provided much needed relief to regional
transportation providers, like PennDOT and SEPTA, who had a backlog
of billions of dollars worth of transit maintenance and enhancement
projects. Barry explains, "For many years SEPTA was struggling just to
manage what they had. But now for the first time, they're able to plan
for new services and add extensions, which will have an enormous
impact on the region over time." Although new projects and initiatives
may make headlines, Barry sees changes in infrastructure funding to
be the most critical change to happen to the region.
Although Barry is responsible for listening to many voices, prioritizing
initiatives, and creating region-wide infrastructure plans, he is quick
to dismiss the idea that he is the sole guardian of the region's transportation network. His greatest duty, though, is not just developing
the grander vision, but making sure we can pay for it. He understands
how critical the maintenance and further development of our region's
transportation infrastructure is and has dedicated his career to it. "At
the end of the day, [transportation infrastructure] is a public good
that needs to be paid for. Whether we pay for it through taxes or
fees, the only way we'll have a first-class transportation network is
by paying for it." ■
Benedicte Clouet is the Director of Business Development at Econsult Solutions.
Lauren Bauman is a student at Drexel University studying Global Studies
with a focus in International Business and Economics and a member of the
ESI Intern Association.

AIA Philadelphia | context | FALL 2016 11


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Context - Fall 2016

Editors’ Letter
Up Close
Design Profiles
Index to Advertisers
Mayor Kenney’s Infrastructure Policy
Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia: The Reading Viaduct Rail Park
Streets: They’re Not Just for Cars Any More
Context - Fall 2016 - ebelly1
Context - Fall 2016 - ebelly2
Context - Fall 2016 - cover1
Context - Fall 2016 - cover2
Context - Fall 2016 - 3
Context - Fall 2016 - 4
Context - Fall 2016 - Editors’ Letter
Context - Fall 2016 - Community
Context - Fall 2016 - 7
Context - Fall 2016 - 8
Context - Fall 2016 - 9
Context - Fall 2016 - Up Close
Context - Fall 2016 - 11
Context - Fall 2016 - Mayor Kenney’s Infrastructure Policy
Context - Fall 2016 - 13
Context - Fall 2016 - 14
Context - Fall 2016 - 15
Context - Fall 2016 - Green Infrastructure in Philadelphia: The Reading Viaduct Rail Park
Context - Fall 2016 - 17
Context - Fall 2016 - 18
Context - Fall 2016 - 19
Context - Fall 2016 - Streets: They’re Not Just for Cars Any More
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Context - Fall 2016 - Expression
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Context - Fall 2016 - Design Profiles
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Context - Fall 2016 - Marketplace
Context - Fall 2016 - Index to Advertisers
Context - Fall 2016 - cover3
Context - Fall 2016 - cover4