The CSPA Q&A: Michael Carroll

Philadelphia’s deputy director for infrastructure spoke with City & State ahead of the 2024 Building Infrastructure Summit

Michael Carroll

Michael Carroll National Association of City Transportation Officials

Michael Carroll serves as Deputy Managing Director for Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, or OTIS, where he leads strategy and policy direction around transportation, water, sanitation and streets. Overseeing thousands of transit stops and miles of street, Carroll has also been coordinating with external agencies – local, statewide and even nationally – to ensure the safety and sustainability of multimodal systems across Philly. 

In advance of his appearance as a panelist at the 2024 City & State Building Infrastructure Summit, Carroll spoke with City & State to chat about how the commonwealth is working to make headway in various infrastructure projects.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What do you do every day – and what are you chiefly responsible for?

I think the main reason why OTIS exists is to help coordinate different folks both within city government, so that's going to mostly be the Water Department and the Streets Department, but also to make sure that there’s a good level of communication with folks outside of the city government, and make sure that we’re advocating strongly for resources for the city. When we’re pursuing funding at the state level, our office often takes the lead in identifying opportunities, and especially with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

One of the big items we’ve taken on over the last couple of years is trying to figure out how to create opportunities for people. You know, as we’re investing a lot in infrastructure, how do we build a workforce that can do that? We’re going to make sure that they’re trained and ready to go, that there’s work for them, and that they’re getting that. And for diverse businesses, to ensure that we’re growing the firms that can help us get good infrastructure projects done.

Speaking of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Philly alone received $350 million from it to help expedite its infrastructure efforts. What has been the biggest impact from the funding on building or even planning thus far?

We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we are really proud of our achievements and bringing funding in – I think we’ve approached a half billion dollars when you include the airports work. And beyond that, the stuff that has come in through formula funds, which have expanded. So this is the money that we had been getting before, but they’ve grown by quite a bit for things like paving and bridge reconstruction. So we got a good head start in terms of building capacity within the city to do that work. But also, we’ve had a chance to work on partnerships – a lot of engagement with people who are doing workforce development; a lot of engagement with labor, you know, trade unions; a lot of engagement with contractors just to make sure that they have information that stuff is coming and that they can start their work of building capacity, which then adds to people getting jobs and starting careers and doing great stuff. 

And, you know, the city has a lot of things that need to be rebuilt. There’s never a shortage of 100-year-old things and 50-year-old things that are past their design life and so I think there’s a huge quality-of-life benefit that we’ll see from this. And we need to upgrade and refresh this infrastructure to keep our economy going. We have to do this work, there’s no way around it. And that’s been true for decades, but the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law finally got around to taking a look at what needed to be done. I think this is a good infusion of resources for us.

Is aging infrastructure the most significant challenge facing public projects?

There’s a lot of competition for the most significant challenge. But, yes, in any city that’s over, you know, three centuries old, we have to think about that. We’re really fortunate, there’s a lot of legacy infrastructure on the transportation side and the water side that we don’t have to rebuild at 21st-century prices. That gives us a little bit of a head start. But we have to maintain it. Over decades, that maintenance hasn’t been happening, and we have to catch up and we have to get to where it is in a state of good repair. And then we have to build new things for a city that’s trying to thrive in different ways than we had in the past. So it’s definitely in the top five challenges, and maybe No. 1 or 2 in any given year.

Is there any specific project you are most excited about or most proud of?

You know, there’s a lot of good ones. I’m very excited about the work we’re doing on Roosevelt Boulevard; there’s a lot of safety impact we want to get out of that. We haven’t started construction, but we got one of the largest grants, before this year anyway, and I think that will have a great impact on many neighborhoods along that stretch. But also in this past year, we’ve brought on funds to reconstruct what we call the Chinatown Stitch to restore that neighborhood. I think people are gonna love that. 

What are you looking to bring to the summit or to get out of it?

This message that we’re trying to really impact Philadelphians’ lives is going to be important in the work we do. But also, the Parker administration emphasizes intergovernmental coordination, you know, just making sure that everybody’s on board. We’ve got good relationships with both the Biden administration and the Shapiro administration, and we just need to keep that engine rolling along. 

We’re trying to build on the idea that Philadelphia is open for business. I think there’s a lot of work we still have to do to make it easy to do business with the city of Philadelphia, but that’s certainly at the top of the agenda.