Cuomo taps Roth, LeFrak for Penn Station task force

Governor recommends booting Amtrak and having the state take over
By Kathryn Brenzel | May 23, 2017 03:00PM

From left: Andrew Cuomo, Richard LeFrak, Steve Roth and Penn Station (Credit: Getty Images)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday tapped Richard LeFrak, Steve Roth and others to serve on a task force dedicated to addressing myriad issues at Penn Station — including its management.

A key step to resolving issues at the busy station, according to the governor, is booting Amtrak. During an event at the City University of New York, Cuomo proposed shifting control of Penn Station to either the state, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey or a private “qualified operator.” In the first scenario, the state would use design-build authorization and work with the private sector to make repairs and operate the station. Whoever takes control of the station will also oversee the redevelopment of the James A. Farley Post Office and the Gateway tunnel project.

“The best way to do this, if you weren’t dealing with all these levels of bureaucracies, is to do it as one, unified project, one project manager and have the entire project work together,” Cuomo said.

In a statement, Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman noted that Penn’s current condition is largely the result of “decades of underinvestment” and commuter volume well-above what the station was designed for.

“There are plenty of reasons why we reached this situation at Penn Station, but we are now taking the concrete steps, with funds we already have, required to fix it,” Moorman said.

Roth and LeFrak, who are also on President Trump’s infrastructure council, have a lot at stake when it comes to Penn Station. Roth’s Vornado Realty Trust owns 9 million square feet of office and retail in the area and is also part of the team the governor tapped to transform the James A. Farley Post Office into a new train hall and shopping center. Meanwhile, LeFrak has spent decades developing parts of Jersey City across the Hudson River. At a panel last month, LeFrak noted that some members of the council have the president’s ear “from time to time.”

The governor’s announcement comes just two days after he penned a letter to Trump asking for federal assistance for the station. In the letter, he warns of the “summer of agony” that awaits commuters under Amtrak’s plan to cut rail service in order to complete repairs in the station. He also said that at a minimum, a private sector terminal operator should be brought in to take over construction and operations at the station from Amtrak.

The governor’s task force, which also includes former City Planning Director Carl Weisbrod and former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, will develop an immediate plan to deal with the summer transportation issues as well as consider long-term management options.