New at 30th Street: $38M in renovations, and hope for the flipboard?

If you ride through 30th Street Station, you can look forward to a smoother experience getting to the Market-Frankford line in the near future.

30th Street Station has long been a hub for Amtrak, all 13 Regional Rail lines and SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line. Architecturally, the station is one of the crown jewels of Philadelphia’s transit infrastructure, built in 1927-33 and designed by the historic architecture firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.

But one big challenge to the station has long been the transfer to the Market-Frankford Line, which includes leaving the grandeur of the main train station and crossing a busy street to enter the subterranean subway station.

Now, the 30th Street Market-Frankford station, one of SEPTA’s busiest with an estimated 25,000 passengers daily, will be getting revamped as part of a $38 million project — with $15 million arriving through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program. Nationwide, build is issuing a total $1.5 billion for 91 projects in 49 states, which U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao called “a down payment on this administration’s commitment to America’s infrastructure.”

“The project will expand the capacity of the 30th Street Station and improve connections between the SEPTA and Amtrak stations at 30th Street,” the Department of Transportation said in an announcement of the grant. “The project will provide new and expanded stairs, escalators, elevators, and fare payment configuration. It will redesign the entrance, and will transform station aesthetics to modernize the station and improve circulation between transit modes.”

SEPTA said the “modernization project” will “increase station capacity, improve passenger flow, and support the regionally significant economic development activities planned for the surrounding area,” and include “an expanded mezzanine area, a new glass head house and canopy at north-west corner of 30th and Market Street, a ramp to the new Drexel Square, improved lighting, signage and extensive bike parking.”

The project is set to begin in 2019 and be complete by 2022. The federal grant represents 39 percent of the $38 million project, and SEPTA said is helping to leverage $23 million in state, local and private funds, along with $2 million from Brandywine Realty Trust.

Ridership at the 30th Street Market-Frankford station has increased 20 percent over the past 15 years, according to SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey D. Knueppel.

“This project will allow SEPTA to better accommodate anticipated ridership growth,” Knueppel said in a statement.

Meanwhile, what about 30th Street Station’s famous flipping-board schedule sign, installed in 1971 and eportedly the last boards at any Amtrak station in the nation?

Amtrak announced plans to replace the sign with a new digital sign two years ago. But Philly Congressman Brendan Boyle recently told WHYY he personally lobbied Amtrak’s CEO to preserve the sign, which was tentatively scheduled for removal by January 2019. “People, myself included, have an attachment to this clickety-clack sign,” Boyle said on WHYY’s Radio Times.

The sign’s original manufacturer Solari told the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Inga Saffron (who wrote that “the satisfying clickety-clack of the flaps … echo the clickety-clack of the trains as they race along the tracks”) they could restore the sign as it is for $100,000, as compared to Amtrak’s budgeted $11 million for a new digital system.

No final decision has been made, but news of the potential preservation of the flipping-board sign has been received with an outpouring of popular support and affection for the vintage sign on social media.

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