The old Penn Station — that long-lost symbol of the city’s historic preservation movement — turns 100 this year. As City Room’s Michael Grynbaum meticulously detailed, the first passengers to ride the Pennsylvania Railroad passed through the doors of the famed building back in 1910, and while the city tore down the iconic building, today’s iteration is one of the busiest transit hubs in the nation. Yesterday, city and state officials used the Penn Station centennial to celebrate the groundbreaking for another project. Phase I of Moynihan Station, newly renamed Moynihan Moving Forward, is now, well, moving forward.
At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Governor David A. Paterson, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — a veritable who’s who in New York politics — gathered to commemorate the start of the $267 million project. Just a few hours earlier, LaHood and Paterson had signed a grant agreement providing for $83 million in federal funding through the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. Still, even as the back-patting spread in earnest, this project is far from complete and questions about both its usefulness and overall integration into the plans for the 34th St. area abound.
“This is an historic day for New York: not only the 100th Anniversary of Penn Station but also the birth of another,” Paterson said. “Today we break ground on one of New York’s most important transportation projects. While the size and scope of the project may have changed over the years, its goals have remained constant. This critical infrastructure project will create thousands of jobs for our construction workers and foster economic growth.”
While the state’s governor declined to mention the transportation benefits inherent in the project, Sen. Schumer, who led the effort to secure the TIGER grant, put them front and center during his remarks. “Moynihan Station is poised to be one of the greatest transportation and infrastructure legacies of our generation. Transportation infrastructure is the life-blood of New York and investing in it is a tried and true job creator,” he said. “The construction of Moynihan Station will create jobs, upgrade aging infrastructure, and leave behind an economic engine for the entire region. This project will bring together large numbers of people who can live and work in close proximity, which is New York’s secret formula for success. Our public transportation systems must continue to expand in sync with our population and job growth and confidence in the future.”
The Phase I construction — which I’ve covered in depth over the past few months — is modest in scope. While the entire project would realize a new train terminal inside the old Farley Post Office building, Phase I consists of better access points and cosmetic upgrades for the preexisting rathole that is Penn Station. As the press release lists, the first phase includes: “the expansion and enhancement of the 33rd Street Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse, which lies under the grand staircase of the Farley building” as well as “the extension and widening of the West End Concourse to serve nine of Pennsylvania Station’s 11 platforms, new vertical access points and passenger circulation space and entrances into the West End Concourse through the 31st and 33rd Street corners of the Farley building.” These most celebrated of all entrances will be opened by 2016.
Planning for the second phase, says the governor’s office, is “well under way.” In other words, don’t hold your breath. Still to prove that point, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation released the renderings with which I’ve decorated this post. If or when the $1.5-billion Phase II sees the light of day, it will at least look nice.
Yet, the project still suffers from a lack of planning. Basically, Moynihan Station is the very definition of putting lipstick on a pig. It takes a recognize urban problem — the ugliness of the current Penn Station — and spruces up the Amtrak depot. It doesn’t offer up more track capacity into or out of the city, and it doesn’t really integrate the New York City end of the ARC Tunnel. In fact, there’s no small irony to the fact that this groundbreaking came just a few days before the two-week ARC Tunnel review is up. At Penn Station, it’s almost as though the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, and one of those hands is planning to spend a significant amount just to make everything look nicer.