City loses control of Market East billboards

The large digital sign that plays videos at Eighth and Market Streets is said to be an issue for residents and drivers.

The federal government has taken regulatory control of large billboards and digital displays along the Market Street East corridor away from Philadelphia, saying the city had not been responsive to questions about enforcement.

In a letter issued last month, the Federal Highway Administration ordered that the city return control of outdoor advertising there to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Outdoor advertising control "for all parts of the city of Philadelphia must immediately be under PennDot's exclusive control," Renee Sigel, the Pennsylvania division administrator for the FHWA, wrote in the letter.

The state already has oversight of the rest of the city. Market Street East, which saw its first LED digital billboard go up last year, was to be an exception.

Sigel's letter said the city had not done its part in assuring state and federal officials that it was making sure outdoor advertising along Market Street East was in compliance with all regulations.

"The city has not met the conditions of the certification and per communication with the PennDot legal counsel, the city has not been responsive to PennDot's request for information" on the Market Street East Advertising District (MSEAD), the letter said.

City spokesman Mike Dunn said the administration believes the Market East regulations and current signs meet federal guidelines.

"Now that we've been made aware of the issue at hand, we are working diligently with PennDot and the federal government to resolve it," Dunn said.He added that ad revenue from the signage is important to the vitality of Center City.

Eugene Blaum, PennDot spokesman, said the department is working to take oversight and cancel the Market Street East Advertising District.

The takeover became public when Mary Tracy, president of the nonprofit Scenic Philadelphia, put out a news release Tuesday calling it a "victory."

"To date Philadelphia has lacked the resources and the political will to adequately control outdoor advertising and protect our streetscapes from visual blight," Tracy said in the release.

Tracy said the colorful digital display above the old Lit Bros. store at Eighth Street and Market, which often plays videos, has been an issue for residents and drivers in the area.

A Federal Highway Administration spokesman said concerns over Market Street East ads are not new.

"In recent years, there have been concerns related to outdoor advertising enforcement in the Market Street area - related to signs' size, spacing and lighting - and the city has failed to respond in a timely fashion to inquiries from PennDot about these possible violations of the Highway Beautification Act," Doug Hecox, the spokesman, said Wednesday.

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