Hochul vows to work with mayor, punts on Penn Station details

Gov. called transit hub a “scary place” in remarks at construction trade group event Thursday

New York /
Oct.October 14, 2021 03:00 PM

Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York (Getty Images, iStock)

Less than two months after assuming office, Gov. Kathy Hochul is already doing a few things differently than her predecessor.

For one, she isn’t quite as keen on slideshows glorifying New York’s past infrastructure feats, nor name dropping Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller.

And while speaking to a crowd of builders, architects and developers on Thursday, she vowed to do something Gov. Andrew Cuomo actively avoided: work alongside New York City’s mayor to get some of the state’s most ambitious projects across the finish line.

Still, as Cuomo did when it came to the building industry, Hochul reads the room: At an event held by the New York Building Congress, she rattled off major infrastructure projects that her administration inherited but remains committed to, including an overhaul of Penn Station.

“That is one scary place, my friends. Let’s get it done,” she said, joking that she worried for her daughter’s safety during a recent trip to Penn. Cuomo often likened the transit hub to hell.

But the governor stopped short of explaining what she meant by getting the station’s renovation “done.” Cuomo’s vision of a southern expansion, funded by the development of 10 new towers in its immediate vicinity, has drawn the ire of community leaders and elected officials.

It is unclear to what extent the state will modify the former governor’s plan. Empire State Development officials have previously said they are considering including residential units on three of the sites, rather than just the 1,000-plus hotel rooms and 14 million square feet of office space originally contemplated. Hochul has yet to reveal who will lead ESD following the departures of chairman Steven Cohen and president Patrick Foye over the summer.

A spokesperson for the governor said Hochul is working with community members, elected officials and experts to “ensure any plan to improve the Penn Station district maximizes benefits to the public.”

The governor has already pumped the brakes on another controversial project championed by her predecessor: a $2.1 billion AirTrain that would run between LaGuardia Airport and Willets Point, Queens. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced this week that it was halting the project, following Hochul’s request that the agency examine alternatives.

During Thursday’s event, the governor did not mention the AirTrain, but said she considers the ongoing redevelopment of LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy Airport to be priorities, as well as the overhaul of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

“This is New York. This is not a third world country. Let’s get rid of that eyesore and make it something magnificent that people are so proud of,” she said of the 70-year-old bus terminal.

With a 2022 election campaign looming, Hochul will likely feel pressure to ensure that large-scale construction projects move forward if she wants to secure the backing of building trades and developers, both of which were key sources of political support for Cuomo.

According to a new report by the Building Congress, government spending on construction is expected to decline over the next three years. The group estimates that spending will reach $23 billion this year before falling to $22 billion in 2022 and $21 billion in 2023. Overall construction spending is projected to total $174.1 billion between 2021 and 2023, according to the report. That is a decrease of $1.5 billion from the pre-Covid three-year period of 2017 to 2019, but represents a larger drop when adjusted for inflation.

The report, however, did not account for the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill that is still being debated in Congress. Those funds could help get underway the much-delayed Gateway Project, which would expand the rail link between the city and Newark, New Jersey.

“With a long road to economic recovery ahead, the ever-present threats of climate change and infrastructure that’s crumbling, we need meaningful, immediate support from Washington,” Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the Building Congress, said in a statement. “Investments in the infrastructure are investments in a stable and vibrant city, state and nation.”





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