In a drawer or on a laptop of Pennsylvania and New Jersey lawmakers and planners are wish lists of infrastructure projects.
It's dry stuff to look at, a tally of routes, agency acronyms, and price tags with lots of zeroes. Each item on the lists, though, represents a faster commute for thousands on I-95 or I-76, or a respite from highway traffic. These items represent jobs, scads of them. In many cases, they're also mirages, visions of gleaming new trains to the Navy Yard or along the Delaware River waterfront that could be . . . if only there were money.
During this year's presidential campaign, there's at least one thing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree on: The federal government should spend more to make these projects a reality.
They both say they will, if elected, pump billions of federal dollars into infrastructure, upgrading among other things the nation's aging roads, bridges, and rails, and, creating millions of new jobs. Clinton's campaign website quotes a 2011 White House Council of Economic Advisers report that every $1 billion in federal highway and transit investment would support 13,000 jobs for one year.
Federal money is a crucial component of the region's infrastructure funding formula. More than half of New Jersey's transit funding comes from the feds. In Pennsylvania, almost two-thirds of roads money and almost a quarter of transit money comes from federal sources, according to 2017 budget data from both states.
Whoever wins the White House, officials here are ready with a host of projects that need funding.
Of Pennsylvania's $92 billion in road and transit needs, funding sources exist for $44.2 billion of it, according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). New Jersey has $19.4 billion to cover $24.8 billion in projects.
More federal funds "would be tremendously helpful," said Jim Ritzman, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's deputy secretary for planning. "We would see the impact right away."
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, talked about the need for the Gateway Program, a plan for a expanded rail route under the Hudson River.
Pennsylvania State Sen. John Rafferty (R., Collegeville) rated extending the Broad Street Line in Philadelphia to the Navy Yard a high priority.
U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo from New Jersey touted an investment in the Atlantic City International Airport.
Last year, Congress passed a $305 billion infrastructure bill that will fund projects through 2020. Clinton has proposed an additional $250 billion in spending over five years, plus $25 billion for an infrastructure bank designed to attract $225 billion in private investment to projects.
Trump's advisors upped the ante even further last week, saying he would authorize $137 billion in tax credits for builders of new toll roads and bridges, in turn enabling them to borrow money to finance up to $1 trillion in total spending. Neither campaign responded to requests for more details.
In South Jersey and the Philadelphia metro region, the DVRPC culls lists of infrastructure projects and establishes priorities. On the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, DVRPC listed upgrades to I-95, I-476, I-76, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Valley Forge, and more trails for the state's Circuit bike trail network.
SEPTA projects dominated the transit wish list, and include Regional Rail extensions, the Navy Yard subway connector, and the most costly item, a $1.1 billion extension to King of Prussia for the Norristown High Speed Line. In the early planning phases is a transit line that would run along the riverfront on Delaware Avenue.
In New Jersey, the DVRPC advocated for the rail line into Gloucester County, another portion of the bike Circuit, and upgrades to the I-295 and Route 38 interchange.
These projects can meet the demands of a changing population. In Gloucester County, growth has made Routes 42 and 55 more congested, and the county continues to grow, New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty said.
"Anyone that drives to work from South Jersey knows the need for that," he said of the proposed rail route. "Every morning, there's a mile to two-mile backup from people trying to enter 42."
Total cost of the projects highlighted by the DVRPC is almost $6 billion.
When it comes to infrastructure spending, though, it may not matter whether it's President Trump or President Clinton making the proposal. Congress has continually had trouble agreeing on how to pay for it, and Barry Seymour, the DVRPC's executive director, isn't convinced that some sort of public-private cooperative will get the job done. Much of the need, he said, is for basic maintenance, not flashy new projects that might attract investment.
Meanwhile, the bedrock of infrastructure funds, the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents on the gallon, generates less and less as cars become more fuel efficient, or don't need gas at all. "It's always hard to imagine Washington coming through with a big funding package," he said.
LoBiondo said he would not vote for a gas tax increase that might make up for lost revenue.
But there are also alternatives to a gas tax. Ideas floated have included taxing vehicles based on miles traveled or repatriation of corporate gains.
"I think there's recognition that infrastructure is critically important," said LoBiondo, a member of the House Transportation Committee. "It's a pretty bipartisan issue."
Booker, the ranking Democrat on the Senate subcommittee for passenger rail safety, also called infrastructure a priority, because it "yields a tremendous return on investment by creating jobs and growing our economy."
In the last three years, Pennsylvania has seen firsthand the value of spending more on infrastructure. Before 2013's Act 89 passed and created massive funding for transportation, SEPTA was on the cusp of shutting down portions of its Regional Rail network and the state had the nation's most structurally deficient bridges. Today, SEPTA is expanding and Pennsylvania has cut the number of troubled bridges from more than 6,000 to fewer than 4,000, according to PennDot.
And yet still Act 89 met only part of the state's needs. "You can't understate," Seymour said, "the importance of federal funds for us."