Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Empire Station Complex plans unveiled at Penn Station New York

Written by  Joseph M. Calisi
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January 6th in religious terms is The Epiphany. It was on this occasion that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave New Yorkers an epiphany of their own by unveiling Empire Station Complex, a multi-billion-dollar project—yet unfunded—making New York’s Pennsylvania Station the focal point of transportation for the New York Metropolitan area.

Penn Station New York (PSNY) would be redeveloped as the center of a pinwheel of change and part of a carefully orchestrated rollout of Cuomo’s 2016 agenda. The reason for this proposal could be summed up with a simple statement from Gov. Cuomo about Penn Station: “Frankly, it’s a miserable experience. To really cut to the chase, it is a terrible, ugly impression of New York.”

Calisi NYPennCuomo opened the press conference with an historical rehashing of important transportation milestones such as the vision former New York Governor DeWitt Clinton had to commission the building of the 524-mile Erie Canal. This canal made New York State the only one with direct access to shipping from the Great Lakes, making New York City the greatest seaport on the eastern coast of the U.S. Cuomo used this as one of several examples to demonstrate that “Big problems need big solutions and that New York was made great by those that thought big and acted big.” He added New York was not a great city merely because of its location, but because engineering marvels made New York great and that we need to get back to that. “It’s going to be the heart of an entirely new transit system,” he said.

The full capital plan will be revealed during his State of the State and budget presentation on Jan. 13.

Calsi NY Penn 4The $3 billion plan for the Empire Station Complex was revealed as part of a master plan to remake PSNY and the Moynihan Center-Farley Post Office as a massive transportation hub. Multiple plans for PSNY were disclosed, with a new entrance in the middle of Madison Square Garden replacing the location of the MSG Theatre. Cuomo said the acquisition would be a “friendly, negotiated condemnation and removal” of the Paramount Theater on Eighth Avenue from the MSG complex. An RFP/RFEI (with a response within 90 days) to develop a new Empire Station Complex would be issued during the week of January 11th. The Garden’s owner, James Dolan (a businessman and a New Yorker), joined the governor at the announcement saying, “This project is good for New York.”

The overall plan breaks down like this. Merging PSNY (which already processes 650,000 people a day—more passengers than the New York airports combined) with the new Moynihan station using tunnels beneath 8th Avenue could double and even triple PSNY’s current passenger loads. The Empire Station Complex would be a t great gateway to New York City, reminiscent of the original Pennsylvania Station that opened in 1910.

Airports such as MacArthur on Long Island would gain a new LIRR station and international customs house so that international airline passengers could land at that airport and use a train to reach midtown Manhattan while reducing the heavy reliance on JFK Airport as a hub. LaGuardia Airport would gain an Airtrain system so passengers could ride the LIRR into Manhattan. The MTA would be modernized to carry these passengers as part of an integrated transportation system. A third main line track on the LIRR is key to creating 14,000 new jobs on Long Island and allowing for improved reverse commuting when that project would be completed in 2035. Metro-North would gain four new stations in The Bronx, giving the MTA commuter railroads a greater reach than they have now while using Penn Station as a central destination. It is not known how a finalization of a possible NEC Futures plan with a new tunnel beneath Long Island Sound to Connecticut, if implemented, would affect these plans.

A LaGuardia Airport, an Airtrain line would be built with at transfer to the LIRR’s Port Washington branch at Willets Point in Queens with a second airport connection to PSNY.

Metro-North’s new route from New Haven through The Bronx with four new stations would add more coverage to an underserved area. Upstate airports would also see additional traffic in Westchester County.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman called the project a “rail renaissance.”

Cuomo made multiple plans for various parts of New York State public during the first two weeks of January for the future of transportation in the state. Many local governments lately have had trouble selling bonds, and such projects are costly. While the vision is grand, the question is, how is this all going to be paid for?

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