Home Asides Empire State Development Corp. gives Moynihan the OK

Empire State Development Corp. gives Moynihan the OK

by Benjamin Kabak

Six weeks after the Moynihan Station projected earned an $83 million TIGER grant that will enable the city to build Phase I of the ambitious Penn Station expansion plan, New York’s Empire State Development Corporation has approved the amended General Project Plan. (View the amended Project Plan here.) The ESDC vote kicked off the public approval process, and the next major milestone will be a public hearing on Wednesday April 28 at the Farley Post Office, the future site of the project.

“Too many have waited too long for relief at Penn Station,” Robin Stout, Moynihan Station Development Corporation president said in a statement after the vote. “As we move through the public approval process, we will also be concluding our design and documentation so that Phase 1 construction can begin as soon as possible.”

As the Moynihan Station plan moves forward — with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as the lead architects — the costs remain an issue. Phase I is a $267 million project that simply improves access to the current Penn Station by constructing more entrances and widening a few platforms. Phase II, which will turn the Farley Building into a rail hall, will cost between $1-$1.5 billion and has not yet received any funding commitments. Baby steps are better than no progress at all, but I’m not too optimistic that the Moynihan Station plan as it currently exists will see the light of day anytime soon.

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Alon Levy March 31, 2010 - 3:37 pm

It’s a good project. With so many starchitects unemployed because of the recession, it’s a good jobs program for them. Remember: for you the money may be just the annual rent, but for them it’s a full per diem.

Christopher March 31, 2010 - 4:43 pm

I’m not sure I’d call SOM a starchitects. They have some pretty important projects, sure, but they are large workaday firm, which is one reason they are so cost effective for large projects: the bring engineering, architecture, interiors — all under one roof and especially have experience managing large civic and transportation projects. (Like the expansion of SFO.)

Alon Levy March 31, 2010 - 5:41 pm

$1.5 billion is not cost-effective. Bigger projects than Moynihan in Tokyo cost $500 million. And Japan is not a cheap city to build things in.

But the truth is that Moynihan Station would provide zero transportation value, so to spend any positive amount of money on it is cost-ineffective.

Rhywun March 31, 2010 - 8:23 pm

I agree. So why are we doing it? And “because Penn Station sucks” is not a valid excuse for spending billions of dollars on an entrance.

Nathanael April 17, 2010 - 2:53 am

Do you ever actually take long-distance trains from Penn Station?

Moynihan would provide massive value for the *national network*. It’s actually a very sensible choice for *Amtrak*. Local commuter travel is not the focus here; vacationers and business travellers from as far as Chicago, New Orleans and Miami need a decent, uncrowded, safe waiting area. The current overcrowded zoo is unacceptable and frankly dangerous.

Moynihan would provide massive transportation value for anyone *walking* with a *pile of luggage* to catch a train. And, bluntly, that’s what it’s for, not for you locals. That’s also why it’s being funded by the *state and federal* governments, and partly out of *HSR* money, since it would really not make sense for NYC to fund a project mainly used by long-distance travellers. The current plans for phase II specifically enable use of two additional platform tracks for service to upstate NY and beyond (Toronto, Montreal, Chicago), which should give you an idea what this is actually about.

SEAN March 31, 2010 - 4:19 pm

The sooner the new station opens the better.

Christopher March 31, 2010 - 4:48 pm

Not sure why a project like this, on some of the most valuable Real Estate in the U.S., is not a public private partnership. If SF can raise money to rebuild its transbay terminal through land and air rights and DC is able to build new stations and rail extensions through private landowner-funding, I don’t understand why NYC seems to have so much trouble monetizing its transit real estate assets. Not just here but at Atlantic Yards, 7 line extension, and wherever throughout the system. The MTA and others are either too cosy with developers or they do not have the brain trust on staff to battle it out with the developers and their lawyers.

kvnbklyn April 1, 2010 - 2:36 pm

The 7 train extension is being funded through tax increment financing which will result in the private property owners who benefit most from the extension paying off the bonds used to fund the project.

And parts of the Moynihan project could be paid for through the sale of 1 million square feet of air rights to developers of adjacent parcels – the “Penn West” proposal at 8th Avenue and 34th is specifically mentioned in the General Project Plan that Benjamin linked to.

Also, I don’t know who would get the revenue from all the leasable retail and office space in the Moynihan project, but that could also go a long way to covering part of the cost of construction.

Rhywun March 31, 2010 - 9:53 pm

too cosy with developers

Heh, there’s a fair bit of that here in NYC – and every other locality in the nation.

Cap'n Transit April 1, 2010 - 12:38 am

Phase I is pretty inoffensive: $267 million for an enlarged concourse with new entrances. It’s Phase II that would be the real waste of money.

Josh K April 1, 2010 - 1:41 am

Phase I is the part with most of the actual transportation improvements. It opens up the currently closed off stairs and the elevators to the platforms under the Farley building to the public, easing passenger congestion in Penn Station under MSG. Phase I also opens the old Mail Platform to public use for another two tracks of passenger service, to be set aside for trains using the Empire Corridor up to Albany (Empire Service, Lake Shore Limited, Ethan Allen Express, Maple Leaf and the Adirondack) which will free up track space for NEC through trains, as well as possibly a few MTA Metro-North Hudson Line trains (though probably not going to happen any time soon). The improved passenger circulation, by splitting Amtrak and LIRR into separate waiting areas with their own access to platforms is supposed to reduce train platform dwell time. This in theory could increase the throughput of Penn/ Moynihan Station. With over 160 Million passengers per year passing through Penn (Amtrak, LIRR and NJT combined) that’s a greater number than JFK, LGA and NWK combined, all in a cramped warren of tunnels and passageways under a sports stadium.

Phase II is the portion of the project where Amtrak moves all of its operations into a new passenger concourse, which will be built inside the shell of the old post office. This project does nothing to increase the number of trains or platforms or tracks. Instead it seems that Phase II is a glamor project for Amtrak. They seem to want Moynihan Station to be their new crown jewel, sitting astride their fantasy high speed rail corridor. It seems as if once phase I is complete, Amtrak plans on going to the Federal government and begging them for the $1Billion+ for Phase II. If so, let them, as long as it’s part of a larger series of improvements to the NEC.

kvnbklyn April 1, 2010 - 1:50 pm

Actually, opening up the diagonal platform to passenger use (and adding two tracks to the current 21) is part of Phase II, not Phase I. This makes Phase II even more important in my eyes since it will also add significant train capacity (likely dedicated to the Empire Service) rather than just passenger capacity (which in itself is sorely needed at Penn). Reactivating the diagonal platform has recently been added to the scope of this project.

I also disagree that Phase II is a glamor project. As someone who takes Amtrak regularly from Penn Station, the current boarding area is woefully overcrowded (despite the opening of NJT’s Seventh Avenue Concourse) and increases dwell times because boarding and alighting take so long. Any increase in Amtrak ridership will only make this worse. Once Amtrak operations are moved to the Farley Building, there will also be more room to significantly expand suburban rail passenger space (a la the previously proposed Moynihan East) in what should be considered Phase III.

Alon Levy April 1, 2010 - 6:32 pm

The boarding area has 46% of its space used for back offices and concessions. Removing those would cost some money in lost revenue, but it would be a fraction of the cost of building an entirely new train station one block further away from the CBD.

The extra platforms are a complete waste. Penn doesn’t get that much traffic, by European or Japanese standards. It has 21 tracks. But its current peak traffic, 60 tph, would comfortably fit into 10 tracks with ample capacity to spare, and could fit into 4 tracks in a crunch. Judging by how Tokyo Station works, I think that if JR East ran Penn, it would probably allocate 2 tracks for NJT-LIRR through-trains and 4 for terminating LIRR trains.

Nathanael April 17, 2010 - 3:00 am

Until NJT and LIRR run through, unfortunately, this is a fantasy.

And worse, Amtrak is completely incapable of forcing them to run through.

They obviously ought to.

The extra platforms are not a waste at all, because they’re fed from the Empire Connection — which is laid out rather poorly. It’s inconvenient and troublesome to redirect Empire Connection trains to platforms further north due to where the tunnel pops out. Furthermore, *unlike* LIRR-NJT through-running, there is no logic in running Empire Connection trains through towards New Haven and Boston.

Woody April 5, 2010 - 2:03 pm

kvn — I don’t see much reason to think that Amtrak is driving the grand Moynihan Station plan. That is a favorite of some probably well-intentioned NY politicos.

I’m O.K. with stage I and I really like “another two tracks of passenger service, to be set aside for trains using the Empire Corridor up to Albany (Empire Service, Lake Shore Limited, Ethan Allen Express, Maple Leaf and the Adirondack) which will free up track space for NEC through trains.”

I assume that means “more” NEC trains. In my perfect world, the Acela would run every half hour, and the southbound long distance trains (Crescent, Silver Star. Silver Meteor, Palmetto, Carolinian, Cardinal, and Pennsylvanian) would run twice a day.

But $1 or $1.5 billion — Billion — damn! So many other worthy projects. For one example, BSNF told Amtrak and KDOT that it would doubletrack long stretches in Kansas to extend the Heartland Flyer up to Kansas City, for $4 million a mile. Let’s say $5 million a mile upstate, and then weigh 300 miles of double track between here and Buffalo vs a new station in NYC. I just dunno.

Nathanael April 17, 2010 - 3:04 am

The cost per mile upstate in NY is more than in Kansas, unfortunately — but beyond that, the improvements needed upstate are more than mere doubling. First of all, CSX is a lot less friendly than BNSF; second, the Albany-NYC portion of the line is in a crowded and difficult location between cliffs and a river, which is a serious pain to widen or straighten. Albany-Buffalo could have major track tripling (which is actually planned); but the only single track along the entire line runs through a nature preserve and will be a pain in the ass to redouble.

As someone upstate, I can say that a new station in NYC benefits me more than track tripling upstate. (Now, ROW *straightening* or doubling the single-track section would benefit me more, but that stuff is *expensive*.) Arrive in Chicago or LA (or Portland or Seattle), or even Boston or DC or Philly and it’s pretty nice; arrive in New York and it’s a PIT.

Nathanael April 17, 2010 - 2:55 am

I’m actually not sure what the source of the immense cost for phase II is. The extra elevators and tunnels should make it about the same cost as phase I, even with the new access to the diagonal platforms and the general building improvements.

…Oh, right, it’s the covering over of the courtyard with glass, isn’t it? Frankly, I’d be OK with an open-air train hall! I wonder how much money that would save?

Phil April 1, 2010 - 9:01 am

As someone who regularly takes the LIRR I have to say that phase I and II need to be built. I have stopped going to Penn regularly and use Atlantic Terminal because of how cramped Penn is. Move Amtrak to the Farley building and give LIRR more space. Once NJT moves to its new station LIRR and Metro North at some point will have more than enough space.

Eric F. April 1, 2010 - 2:03 pm

Note the following little item. The NJTPK is undertaking a project budgeted at $2.5 billion and fairly routinely getting bids that are essentially getting the authority a 25% + discount on its initial cost estimates, no doubt due to hungry contractors working in a soft economy. Why oh why does this NEVER happen with a mass transit project? Has there been a single cost estimate that has come down in the face of 10% unemployment for any MTA capital project?


Nathanael April 17, 2010 - 2:56 am

Plenty of mass transit projects have been getting significant low bids.

….in other cities.

Walder specifically blamed MTA management style for its failure to get the same benefits. Perhaps this will change now that he’s in charge.


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