Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced plans to create another entrance to the Long Island Rail Road as a way to cut down on congestion in Penn Station. But the remainder of a Penn Station overhaul will have to wait for the long-stalled Gateway project to get off the ground.
Cuomo said the new entrance will be at 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The project would permanently close that section of the street to create a pedestrian plaza outside the new entrance. The development would also include expanding the LIRR concourse and height of the ceiling from seven to 18 feet.
The cost of the project is unclear, but would include the facade of the entrance, three escalators, a staircase and buying out the retail tenants currently located at the LIRR concourse. The Empire State Development Corporation is expected to release a cost estimate by January, which would be included in the state’s 2019 budget. The governor also announced that the ESD will soon start planning other neighborhood-wide improvements.
Though Cuomo repeatedly made a point of saying that the state “never will” wait on the federal government to step in to fix its “crumbling” infrastructure, he said redeveloping the south side of Penn Station should be linked to Gateway — which is dependent on federal funding. The $30 billion project will include building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, redeveloping the existing tunnel between New Jersey and Penn Station and replacing a bridge over the Hackensack River. The two tunnels have an estimated price tag of $13 billion. Though some funding has been allocated, the bulk of the needed financing remains up in the air.
The Obama administration had agreed to split the cost of the tunnels with New York and New Jersey, but the Trump administration said no such deal existed.
“It’s been stopped for political reasons. There is no bonafide or government policy for why this federal government is not going forward,” Cuomo said on Thursday. “They are flirting with disaster. Those tunnels are like the MTA, like the Long Island Rail Road. They are decades past their useful life. Decades.”
The news of the proposed LIRR entrance comes exactly a week before Cuomo will face off against Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial primary. During the press conference at 2 Penn Plaza, Cuomo touted his $150 billion infrastructure initiative and the fact that the state is now in the “doing phase” of addressing its transportation woes. He pointed to the construction of Moynihan Train Hall in the James A. Farley Post Office, which he said is on track to be completed by 2020. The new train hall, which is being developed by Vornado Realty Trust, Related Companies and Skanska, will feature 700,000 square feet of office and retail space and a 255,000-square-foot train hall for both Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road.
Though the new LIRR entrance and the new train hall is aimed at easing foot traffic in the station, the governor’s projects so far don’t holistically address — as described by Cuomo — the hellscape that is Penn Station. In a statement, the Municipal Art Society of New York noted that while the latest proposal will enhance the commuter experience, it doesn’t go far enough.
“Penn Station is at a breaking point, a crisis that didn’t happen overnight but was created out of generations of neglect,” the organization said in a statement. “Although worthy, the recent and proposed station improvements make only modest progress toward resolving the most urgent priorities at Penn: public safety inside the station and overcrowding on the NJ Transit and LIRR lines, which constitute 80 percent of the traffic in and out of our city’s main transit hub.”