Penn Station transformation in the offing: Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo said in his State of the State address he may use eminent domain to transform Penn Station to guard against terrorism.
Courtesy of Empire State Development
By Mark Hallum

Major overhauls to the general layout of Penn Station to curb terrorist threats are on the horizon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during his State of the State address last Wednesday, saying he may use eminent domain to make it happen.

Cuomo ordered state agencies to examine the option to redevelop the 40-year-old Penn Station and said he would consider using the power of eminent domain to expedite upgrades. In the meantime, the Moynihan Train Hall, where construction is underway, should serve to increase capacity as an annex to Penn as well as acting as a safer transfer point for New Yorkers, Cuomo said.

“On top of the volume, the architecture and configuration of Penn is substandard,” Cuomo said. “I call it the seven levels of catacombs. They don’t like when I say that, but it’s true.

“I have directed ESD, the MTA and the Port Authority to work on a redevelopment plan with the neighboring private building owners so that we can restructure and rebuild Penn Station. They are cooperative and understand our needs and support our goal. We are now constructing a new Penn Station, Moynihan Train Hall, right across the street. As that becomes operational, that will give us a flexibility to move operations from the old Penn to the new Farley.”

The Farley Post Office building is currently being transformed into an annex to Penn Station, which will increase capacity and relieve congestion in the nation’s largest transit hub.

A combination of around 233,000 Long Island Rail Road riders per day traveled through Penn Station in 2016, with 5,920 taking the train to and from Hunters Point. For many in eastern Queens, the LIRR is the best and only option for getting to jobs in Manhattan.

“So we’re going to be coordinating with Amtrak, federal government, city officials to accelerate this comprehensive redevelopment project, which will improve the operation, the aesthetics and the security systems in Penn,” Cuomo said. “The threat of terrorism is real. I take it very seriously as one of my prime responsibilities as governor of this state. There is no time for politics, bureaucracy or delay. The state has the power of eminent domain for just such a purpose. We must make Penn better. We must make it safer. We must coordinate with all our partners, but we must do it now.”

Cuomo briefly touched on the issue of the subway crisis, which was compounded by reduced service in Penn Station during what the governor termed the summer of hell, but he did not offer any new information or solutions other than mentioning the need to fund short-term repairs and upgrades and the need to establish a dedicated funding stream for the MTA.

He said the Fix New York Panel would soon offer solutions for enacting congestion pricing, a proposed surcharge on car traffic using bridges and tunnels into Manhattan.

“Our 100-year-old system needs an overhaul,” Cuomo said. “We have 40-year-old subway cars and 80-year-old electric signals. Hurricane Sandy accelerated the decline, because saltwater and electric currents are a corrosive cocktail. The Fix New York Panel will shortly present a report that will have several options for the legislature to consider.”

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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