Governor Cuomo Announces New Main Entrance To Penn Station

NEW YORK   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. Completion of the projects first phase is set for 2020.

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.

Moynihan Station Photo: Shimon Gifter 09.06.2018

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.”

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Transcriptt of speech:

Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Let’s give a big round of applause to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer who is doing a great job. My colleagues from Albany, Brad Hoylman and Dick Gottfried. You’ll hear from them in a moment. Let’s give them a round of applause. Maura Moynihan, my great friend. It’s a pleasure to have you here. God bless you. And to the MTA personnel and ESD personnel, and people from my staff – welcome all.

This is about the progress we are making on a very important project in this city, this state, and how we take it a step even further. The issue is not a new one. Every President in modern history has made the same point that our transportation infrastructure is decaying. That it’s an embarrassment. That it has to be changed, and that this nation is falling behind. They have all been exactly right. The problem is, the follow through, the action. You look at this state, you look at our infrastructure and you know we’re getting left behind. You get one plane, you fly around the globe, land at any airport and then land at LaGuardia. And nothing more needs to be said. So, the idea is right, the vision is right, it’s the getting it done which is where we have fallen down.

The federal government has never stepped up to the plate. The federal government is still failing to act. Our President Trump promised in the campaign that there would be a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plane. I said at the time, “Great.” I got criticized because I’m a member from the other party, but I said “Look a $1.5 trillion infrastructure is great for this nation, great for this state.” As it turned out, the $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan never materialized and it’s not down to a few hundred million over a prolonged period of time. But we are New York and we are not dependent on anyone and we make our own future and we are not waiting. This state is doing the most aggressive building program in the United States of America. No state is doing what we are doing. A $100 billion plan. And next term, good Lord willing, I’m going to take the $100 billion to $150 billion.

And I want to thank our brothers and sisters in labor for doing a magnificent job. They’re doing more public work than they’ve done, probably in modern history. They’re working weekends, they’re working nights, they’re doing a great job – thank you. Vinny Alvarez and everyone who is here. And just to give you a quick glimpse of what we’re doing because you see just one slice of it, but new Kosciusko Bridge. New Goethals Bridge is up. The MTA largest investment in history. The subway action plan. New LaGuardia Airport is being built. New LaGuardia AirTrain. New JFK. New Javits Convention Center which will double the size. The Javits when it was opened in 1984 was state-of-the-art. The other convention centers have grown. We are now going back and doubling the size of the Javits Center so we can compete with any convention center anywhere. That’s underway as we speak. Cashless Tolling is up and running. It’s working extraordinarily well. Saved all sorts of time and money. New Rochester airport, new Elmira Corning airport, new Syracuse airport, new Plattsburgh airport, and new Ithaca airport. $27 billion in roads and bridges across the state.

Infrastructure of tomorrow. The green infrastructure, green technology. We’re doing more to provide renewable energy than any state in the United States of America. And that is the economy of tomorrow. $1.4 billion investment, wind turbines, etcetera. And talk about the infrastructure of tomorrow, the transportation grid at one time brought this nation forward. The internet and access to the internet is what the road system was 50 years ago. This state is going to be the first state with high-speed broadband all across this state and that is going to be the great equalizer. because if you’re studying for school or you’re opening a business, you need access to high-speed internet. And this is why the issue with Charter Spectrum is so important because a big part of this comes from the Charter Spectrum commitment. But I’m very excited about this, especially for underserved areas of the State, especially for Upstate New York.

Our greatest challenge is building a new mass transit system. We have to get out of cars, we have to get out of the pollution. We can’t continue to grow unless we have a mass transit system that can handle the volume. And the truth is amazingly simple: we have an outdated mass transit system, it was built at a different time for a different population, and we did not repair it and maintain it over the years. You know, we’re constantly surprised when there’s a delay or a problem on the subway system. These are 40-year-old cars. These are electric switches, that are in some cases, 100 years old, that were then doused with salt after Hurricane Sandy.

Well, why do things break down? Because they’re 40 years old. You drive a 40-year-old car to work and you tell me your reliability. Why didn’t we repair it over the decades? Because human nature, government nature, the first thing to always be removed is the maintenance and operation, is the replacement of old equipment. We have a mentality that we don’t fix it till its broke. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Well, it’s broke. And it would have been smarter to be investing in it all along, but now were at the point of crisis. And it’s not that we don’t know how to do it. We know how to do it, we know how to buy new cars, we know how to build new tracks. It’s about the money and it’s about a continuing revenue source that provides the money to do what everyone in this city and state now knows what we have to do.

Long Island Rail Road is the same thing. You have 40-year-old power substations on the Long Island Rail Road, they had a 20 year useful life. In some parts of the LIRR there is one track, so if anything happens on that one track it backs up everything. If a squirrel in the morning, walks onto the track and God forbid has a heart attack, everything stops, everybody is three hours late for work. There has to be redundancy, and that’s what’s called the Second Track and the Third Track, and that’s what we’re doing now.

LaGuardia Air Train, talked about for decades, long overdue, we’re one of the only metropolitan areas that doesn’t have a train from the airport, and that has to get done. And the Penn Station Long Island Rail Road Amtrak Complex has to be rethought, rebuilt, and it has to be done quickly. Penn is, as the Borough President said, the most heavy traffic transportation hub in the country. More people going through Penn than LaGuardia, JFK, Newark combined. Just think about that.

Now, there was a brilliant idea to help the Penn situation about 30 years ago. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, God rest his soul, said there is a relatively straightforward answer. The Senator, who I had the good fortune to work with when I was in Washington and to know as a young man, loved transportation, loved infrastructure, he was an academic. The train tracks that run under Penn Station also run under the Farley Post Office. The Farley Post Office is that large, magnificent building right across the street, which was underutilized, and Senator Moynihan’s idea was, you don’t need this whole building for the post office anymore, let’s turn it into a train station. Great idea. The tracks are underneath. You can make it a train station and access the tracks. That would about 30 years ago. And once again, we’ve been talking, we’ve been thinking, we’ve been cogitating, but we haven’t been doing. And we’re now getting to the doing phase. The Moynihan Train Hall, Farley conversion is underway. There as a tour of it this morning. The construction is on schedule, it’s going to be completed in 2020. It is going to be magnificent. It is going to have retail, concourse, it is going to be a beautiful state of the art facility. It’s also going to have one of the really special skylights that will have an architectural significance that’s going to be breathtaking. It is on schedule, that’s a shock of the facility now, under construction, but you can see a tremendous amount has been done. The escalators to the platform are already going in. The skylight which is really the construction art form on this project is being built. The skylight, you can see, is in the middle of the building there. Under those trusses and that’s where the skylight will be built, which will provide natural light for the whole train station. The skylight which was originally built in the post office, because they were sorting mail, and they needed light, to sort the mail. So the entire ceiling was a skylight letting the sunlight in so they could actually read what they were doing when they were sorting the mail, and that was just a brilliant design feature. When you put Penn Station together with Moynihan it is going to be a world-class facility. But, we’re not going to wait for the completion of Moynihan. The truth is Penn Station needs upgrades and needs it now.

From a safety, security and circulation point of view, it needs immediate attention, the volumes have increased, you have to remember these systems were designed at a different time. The subway system, the LIRR, Penn, they were built for a much smaller population. We have now doubled, sometimes tripled the volume going through these facilities and it just can’t manage it. And that is the congestion problem. It’s a commuter’s nightmare, it is also a safety concern. This is a high concentration of people, in a relatively low space, underground, we live a new and frightening world. Terrorism is a real threat, as anybody who lives in New York City knows. And it’s one of the main priorities in my position to be constantly thinking ahead and eliminating points of vulnerability. We want to make sure that people can get in and out of Penn quickly. Especially considering the numbers that we’re talking about. So simultaneous with the Farley construction and the Moynihan Station construction we’re going to start to build a new Long Island Rail Road facility. The Long Island Rail Road facility will be on the north side of the Penn Moynihan complex. You also have Amtrak in Penn and New Jersey Transit in Penn, they’re more on the southern side of the facility, the north side is the Long Island Rail Road facility. But it runs the full length of from to Penn right to the end of Moynihan station.

Right now, you have several entrances into Penn. Those are the blue arrows. But they’re not enough, they’re small, they are, they cause congestion, and they are from a security point of view, in our opinion, not enough to allow, quick evacuation of the facility or convenient entrance. We would add additional entrances where you see the orange arrows. The concourse itself would be widened to about 60 feet, right now, it’s very narrow and low, I said you get the feeling you’re in the catacombs, Amtrak doesn’t like when I say that, so I won’t say it, but it’s narrow, it’s a very low ceiling, in some places only 7 feet. It adds to a feeling of claustrophobia when you’re in there with thousands of other people you really feel constrained and you really feel that at a minimum, that it’s not a comfortable experience. Double the width of the concourse, raise the ceiling height to 18 feet so it’s bigger and it’s more open there’s more flow more passenger conveniences, more light where you can actually see the tracks from the concourse, you can see when your train is coming. You don’t have to stand on the platform you can actually see the concourse. This is a cross-section of what it would look like but again, no bottlenecks and easy access. Part of the proposal is to create a permanent closure of the 33rd St. block which is now temporarily closed. Close it to mid-block to make it a pedestrian public space. Use it as an open space and to put a new large entrance to the LIRR Amtrak and subway facility at the entrance to where the 33rd street is now with the public space behind it. There will be 3 escalators and an additional staircase it would allow thousands of people easy access. You don’t have to go through two Penn, you don’t have to go through Madison Square Garden, you don’t have to run any gauntlet. Its right on the street you can walk right in.

It would also work in tandem with the pedestrian plaza, the public plaza, it would be open, visible. It would have a covering on it that can be designed any number of ways. My forte is not design and art as many people would attest. So we have a number of design options that you can actually have for the opening that we will consider as we go forward with the project but you get the idea. It would be open, it would protect the entrance way. The entrance way itself would also bring much more natural light down into Penn, and down into the concourse. This is another design option. This is Howard Zemsky’s design option. Looks like an ice cream cone sliced in half. I really don’t like that option now that I think about it, sorry Howard. I don’t know whose option this is, but this one is Howard’s on steroids, but we will come up with the design for the, for the facade. Next steps, how does it happen? Farley Moynihan is going ahead, full speed ahead. We’re on it every day. It’s on track to finish 2020. We’ll begin immediately planning the LIRR facility, the design, and the timing of it. That will be expedited. We will design the new LIRR subway entrance from an engineering perspective plus the facade that goes on top of it. ESD, which is currently managing Farley and Two Penn will be the project manager. Financing will be provided by New York State in the budget we adopt next year. MTA will work with ESD on the transportation issues. All construction will be designed/build. The construction timetable will be coordinated to hopefully open when Farley Moynihan opens.

At the same time, ESD is going to undertake the larger surrounding neighborhood improvement planning process and consultation with the stakeholders in New York City, this is what the Borough President was referring to. We are focusing for obvious reasons on Penn and on Moynihan. This plan also does the pedestrian plaza on 33rd street. The Borough President’s point is, the neighborhood wants a larger re-use plan that not only does Penn and Farley, but also the surrounding areas, and that is a project plan that ESD will undertake forthwith, doing it in concert with the community boards that I love too. We all love. And all stakeholders to come up with a neighborhood-wide plan. But that will be a separate track from what we’re doing here. The cost is the cost of construction of the entrance, three escalators and a stairway down, cost of acquisition of the tenant’s rights on the current Long Island Rail Road Concourse. Right now on the Concourse, you have retail stores, it would do the construction, they will have to be bought out through one mechanism or another. Cost of improvements on the concourse, ESD has to total that up, get it to us by January so we can submit it in the budget, which will be submitted late January. That is plenty of time, some may say, “Well, that’s a relatively short period of time,” but nobody at ESD would say that I can assure you. That gives you two months–plenty of time or I will figure it out for you, Howard.

Next steps long-term 2020, Farley-Moynihan opens, Amtrak and LIRR move into Farley-Moynihan. Little noted history, the first plan was that once Moynihan was finished, Amtrak would move into Moynihan and the Long Island Rail Road would stay in the old Penn Station. That made no sense to us, so we renegotiated Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road will move into the new Moynihan facility. That will then free up the remainder of Penn Station because remember this plan does the Long Island Rail Road portion; it does not do the Amtrak portion and the New Jersey Transit portion. Once Amtrak moves into Moynihan we can then redo all of Penn. That, in my opinion, should be coordinated with the completion of the Gateway Project. We have to do the Gateway Project.

We have worked on the Gateway Project for years, we had an agreement with the Obama administration right down to the funding. It has been stopped, it has been stopped for political reasons. There is no bona fide policy or government reason why this federal government is not going forward, and they are flirting with disaster. Again, those tunnels are like the MTA, like the Long Island Rail Road, they are decades past their useful life. Decades. They then took on extraordinary damage after Hurricane Sandy, and it is a long time period if you said, “Go today to replace those tunnels,” you’re talking years, and years, and years before you would actually get it done, no matter how expedite it. We learned the lesson with the MTA, we learned it with the Long Island Rail Road. Don’t wait for the tunnels to fail before you start to replace them–it would paralyze the North East.

Part of that Gateway Project needs to be the redoing of the rest of Penn and it fits perfectly with the Gateway Project. It would be bringing in more trains and we can redo the south side of Penn as part of the Gateway Project. Hopefully by 2020 when Farley is opening and we’re making the major move Gateway will be in a position to come in and make that renovation.

So, long story short, we’re not waiting for the federal government, we’re not waiting for the $1.5 trillion, we’re not waiting for anyone–we never have, we never will. New York is the state that leads in whatever it is and social issues, economic issues, women’s rights issues New York leads. We also lead in terms of construction. We built things that everybody else said couldn’t be built and then everybody else follows. We’re going to do it again. We’re going to show this nation how to build a state that is the epitome of the infrastructure and transportation for the next century, and we’re making it happen. Thank you and God bless you.

 

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