SEPTA’s Got Big Plans for Underground Concourse

As part of a new agreement with the city, SEPTA is now in charge of maintenance and capital improvement of its underutilized underground concourses. Some work has begun.

South Broad Concourse, Under Construction

South Broad concourse, under construction. Photo | Dan McQuade


Three and a half miles of concourses run under the streets of Center City Philadelphia. One can walk from 8th and Market all the way to the Comcast Center. One can then go from there to 12th and Locust. Walking underground can actually save time in many instances: There are no distractions, as swaths of the concourse are devoid of anyone but people rushing through, maintenance workers, loiterers and the occasional skateboarder and/or pot smoker.

SEPTA wants to change that eventually. Now that it has control of maintenance and capital improvement of the underground concourses, SEPTA has begun improvements and repairs. The two escalators at 15th Street — across from City Hall — will be replaced. SEPTA is also replacing the escalator at the 8th Street Station and renovating the elevator there.

Small structural repairs are taking place in stretches of the underground concourse on South Broad Street, as well as at 8th and Market. Visible repairs are being done in the South Broad concourse currently: The concrete on the floor is being repaired, and one section — where a large chunk of the tile wall had fallen off — is completely closed off for various repairs. SEPTA is also adding about 30 more trash and recycling containers in the concourses.

But that’s not all: “Now that SEPTA has control of the concourses, we’re going to create a master plan,” SEPTA Public Information Manager Manny Smith. “Maybe sometime in the future they will look at new things that can be programmed to happen down there so that it becomes more of a destination spot.” Smith says there used to be storefronts in certain areas of the concourse.

Smith cautions SEPTA is in the very beginning stages of completing that capital plan, and says it will meet with stakeholders before moving forward. The current work is in Phase 1 of a four-part plan for the concourses.

The city owns the concourses, which it purchased in 1968 when the Philadelphia Transportation Company was acquired by SEPTA. But it reached a new lease agreement with the city that gave SEPTA control of the concourses.

In the last few years, conditions in the concourses had deteriorated a bit. Swaths of the South Broad concourse leaked during storms. Signage isn’t always great. Before Dilworth Park’s construction, the area between South Broad and the Clothespin occasionally flooded. SEPTA GM Joseph Casey was a tad snarky as the deal was coming together. “We primarily get blamed for the condition of [the concourses],” he told Plan Philly. “We now have the financial wherewithal to fix them up, which the city does not, nor have they ever, nor do they have plans to fix them up.”

In addition to the major escalator and elevator improvements, SEPTA is focusing on seven different stairwells in the South Broad concourse. It also plans to improve lighting in all areas underground; there’s currently a pilot program for LED lighting at the 13th Street El station near the SEPTA building. Signage will be improved.

In addition to eventually creating the capital plan, SEPTA’s also spending seven million each year on maintenance underground. The city spent about $1.3 million.

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