Urban areas, including the periphery, are now experiencing reverse migration back to the urban centers. This trend links to baby boomers who are now ‘empty nesters’ looking to eliminate work commutes and fulfill a desire for proximity to urban entertainment and cultural centers. Millenials have a role in this demographic shift, favoring a lifestyle where work, home and play exist in an urban landscape. Transportation improvements, especially public transportation, serve this changing trend and also encourage investment in the revitalization of central business districts. History shows that the creation of public private partnerships in and around transit zones connect and foster mixed-use development and revitalize existing housing and commercial properties.
In 2010, Pennsylvania’s Transportation Advisory Committee estimated that the Commonwealth’s transportation system was underfunded by 3.5 billion dollars. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) currently estimates that 9,000 miles of roads and 4,400 bridges are structurally deficient. Meanwhile, the trucking industry continues to rank Pennsylvania roads as among the worst in the nation. Public transit systems have struggled with years of funding cuts, forcing fare increases, service cutbacks and employee layoffs. The Commonwealth’s underfunded system placed barriers around an important trend that real estate development has been following – smart growth.
Smart growth is a planning policy that favors concentrated growth in urban centers to combat the social and environmental problems associated with suburban sprawl. Advocates of smart growth favor significant improvements to public transit and walkable urban areas. It’s a trend powered by changing demographics and market conditions.
After nearly three years of debate, the Pennsylvania legislature in November 2013 passed a comprehensive transportation bill that pumps money into the transportation system. The Pennsylvania Transportation Act raises registration, license and commercial fees and increases the wholesale gasoline tax to pay for desperately needed road , bridge and public transit improvements . The Act is projected to generate $2.3 billion dollars a year, ,increasing PennDOT’s budget by nearly 40 percent.
Public transit will see significant benefits from this Act. Many neighboring states and cities have increased transit funds to attract millenials and older residents. Systems are seeing equipment and route upgrades, including the development of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Increased funding for Pennsylvania transit systems may permit the restoration of transit schedules severely reduced in recent years, encouraging greater ridership. The Transportation Act contains a new mechanism where public transit funds will be distributed to transit agencies based on a ridership formula requiring a 10% local matching fund commitment. The Act also provides an incentive for the development of wider, more efficient service regions. A waiver of the local match and the availability of low interest loans are available options to transit systems that combine service areas.
This Act will generate construction jobs throughout Pennsylvania and likely restore jobs lost in many public transit systems. The Act also provides an opportunity for public -private partnerships to develop and operate road, bridge and transit improvements. Most importantly, an improved transit environment will encourage businesses to locate in the Commonwealth. An investment in public infrastructure fosters economic development and real estate investment along transportation corridors and transit lines. Additional investment and thought leadership at all levels of government is needed to position Pennsylvania as a global leader in sustainable transit and transportation.