Feb
13

Moynihan Phase 1 scaled back amidst cost concerns

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The chances of this Moynihan Station rendering becoming a reality are slim.

The Moynihan Station project won’t die and can’t really move forward either. Despite a TIGER grant and a groundbreaking in October 2010, the plan to spend more than a $1 billion without truly increasing cross-Hudson train capacity has hit a stumbling block. As The Wall Street Journal reports today, due to escalating costs, the already-modest Phase 1 is being further scaled back.

Phase 1 of the two-phase project was not a particularly ambitious set of improvements. For $267 million, the Port Authority, now the overseers of the site, had planned to build two new entrances to Penn Station from west of Eighth Ave.; double the length and width of the West End Concourse; drop 13 new access points to the platforms; double the width of the 33rd St. Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse; and make other critical infrastructure improvements. Now that bids are in on the work and every single one came in above budget, the PA is reducing the scope of Phase 1.

Ted Mann has the story:

State and federal officials wary about mounting costs plan to scale back the first segment of work for the future Moynihan Station, the latest setback for an ambitious project almost two decades in the making. Plans to revamp a concourse and upgrade passenger amenities in a portion of Penn Station were narrowed after officials determined that bids for the estimated $267 million project came in too high, said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is assuming control of the long-delayed venture…

“The response of the federal government, state government, MTA and Port Authority to the higher-than-expected bids is a unified approach to reduce the scope of phase one and thereby reduce the amount to be spent,” Mr. Foye said in an interview on Friday. “Phase one is funded and all government parties are working closely together to move phase one forward.”

…Mr. Foye said officials agreed to rebid the contract, focusing on the expansion of the existing West End Concourse, nestled beneath the main steps of the Farley building. Other elements of the first phase, including improvements to the 33rd Street corridor under Eighth Avenue, two new entrances to the station across Eighth Avenue and a new passenger waiting area, will follow once costs can be lowered, Mr. Foye said.

As I’ve long maintained, the Moynihan Station project borders on being a total waste. It’s a fancy way to fund some upgrades for the Amtrak platforms and ventilation infrastructure. It doesn’t offer up more track capacity into or out of the city, and it seems to represent spending on a structure that would allow politicians to point to something nice but not entirely functional. If these cost overruns and rejiggered project allow planners to take a second look at Moynihan Station, so much the better.



Categories : Moynihan Station

56 Responses to “Moynihan Phase 1 scaled back amidst cost concerns”

  1. Larry Littlefield says:

    “As I’ve long maintained, the Moynihan Station project borders on being a total waste.”

    As a transportation project. Developers reuse buildings for shopping and gathering places all the time. The project should succeed on that basis or not at all.

    What is the transportation component? Stairways and elevators down to the platforms? Renting part of the space for ticketing? Then the transportation financial component should be no more than that. And if that’s a lot of money, it’s really sad.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Don’t forget moving people further from their destinations. This is a bigger screwup than ARC by far.

    • TrainJunkie says:

      So 32 new stairs, escalators and elevators to get people off the platforms faster, reduce overcrowding and increase safety is not a transportation component? Explain that.

  2. Marc Shepherd says:

    I think the post severely understates the value of the project. Adding stairs and widening corridors are legitimate improvements to a station badly in need of them. If you have ever been in Penn Station at rush hour, you know that it is far too cramped for the amount of traffic it receives.

    Of course, NYC could use another trans-Hudson tunnel too, but that project (which is about 20 times more expensive) isn’t funded; this one is. When and if a new tunnel is built, Penn Station would need significant access and egress improvements in any case.

    Indeed, in an era when it is hard to get Big Transit done, incremental improvements to infrastructure that already exists may be the best we will get. It is a fallacy of mind-numbing proportions to suggest that unless you add new tracks, any improvement is a “total waste.”

    • Doesn’t sound like this project’s funded either though, eh?

      • Jerrold says:

        Not only THAT, but something is seriously wrong when transportation TERMINALS get more priority than TRANSPORTATION.

        We used to have the Twin Towers; now down there we will have the twin boondoggles known as the Fulton St. Transit Center and the Calatrava Transit Hub.

      • Mind Your Manners says:

        If you actually read the story, it looks like they are actually trying to get the thing built within budget. So it is a little disingenuous to criticize a public agency for trying to control costs at the outset before construction starts. This is actually the right way to do things instead of barreling forward and watching costs get out of control years later, as at the World Trade Center or as in the case of both Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access.

      • Nathanael says:

        It appears to be funded.

        They cut the fat from it, namely the 33rd Street passageway.

        The plan is, fundamentally, to separate intercity travellers from commuters. It’s a good plan and because it’s incremental it may actually get implemented. Intercity travellers care less about being ONE BLOCK EAST, so they will get Moynihan.

        Breaking the project up into smaller pieces is a proven way to get cheaper bids.

    • BBnet3000 says:

      Adding stairs and widening corridors in the existing station (which I keep hearing will still mostly be used even after Moynihan is completed?) is the sole reason to even start this project.

      I sure wouldnt be looking forward to the station (which is perfectly functional now) moving into the post office.

      • Kai B says:

        My main concern is that the visual and capacity improvements seem to primarily benefit Amtrak, which accounts for a tiny percentage of the passengers that pass through the station. It seems that even with Moynihan, the LIRR and NJT lobbies will still be crowded.

        On a side note, I traveled through the PABT this weekend, and compared to that, Penn Station is Grand Central.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Don’t take this as a defense of Moynihan Station, but that “tiny percentage” is still critical. They’re the ones who are bringing commerce from further afield, and they’re the ones who need space for baggage, waiting rooms, etc.. The commuter railroads’ users generally don’t need those amenities.

          • Kai B says:

            I’m all for it. I guess what I was saying is that it would be nice if the other two railroads would benefit from it. It is truly a shame that out of town visitors get Penn Station as a first impression of NYC, as opposed to DC, for instance, where you get quite the landmark.

            (Taking the Acela again this weekend – looking forward to it!)

            • Bolwerk says:

              I definitely think Moynihan should not be built. The general consensus seems to be the capacity in Penn or more or less there, and it just needs to be utilized better. If the private sector wants to do something to beautify Penn and make money off it, I say let ‘em. 60 stories of condos and some neoclassical design at street level can be pulled off, I reckon. :-p

              I may stop taking Acela now that the regionals have wifi (I think). I probably use it roughly monthly, but it only saves about 20m between NYC and DC, and doesn’t even add much in the way of incremental comfort for a lone traveler.

              • Nathanael says:

                The fact is that the capacity in Penn is NOT there. Anyone telling you differently is lying or mistaken.

                The *track* capacity is there; even the platform capacity is there, though it’s a bit constricted. The waiting and walking capacity for intercity passengers is NOT there and cannot be created by simple measures.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Uh, benches in the current Amtrak concourse might help somewhat. Cheaply. Letting LD passengers down to their platforms an hour or so before trains arrive to sit on benches might also help. Other than that, sure, we could do to get more waiting room space. But $1.5B for a new station that’s less convenient? No way.

                  And much of the problem would be fixed by improving throughput. The model should be more like the 4/5/6 at Union Square.

            • Nathanael says:

              The plan, if fully built, is to move Amtrak passengers into Moynihan (if they offer Amtrak the right price) and give the Amtrak spaces in Madison Square Garden’s Basement to NJT.

        • Jack Transit says:

          You can’t fix Penn without doing Moynihan Station. Amtrak looked at this years ago, and the State and City spent millions analyzing it to death. There simply isn’t the room to do anything significant to Penn until you get Amtrak across the street and free up a third of the space in Penn.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Amtrak looked into it? I feel a lot better now.

            • Nathanael says:

              Amtrak is actually very competent at construction staging.

              At the moment, there are only three ways to do anything to Penn:
              (1) Demolish MSG. This allows for LOTS of room for temporary waiting rooms and whatnot while Penn is remodeled. Excellent idea, but how?
              (2) Build something like Moynihan. This allows the closure of hunks of Penn for remodeling, otherwise impossible.
              (3) Close hunks of Penn for remodeling and just tell the people using it not to take the train to Penn. Move the Empire Corridor and New Haven trains into Grand Central, take the trains from NJT and points south into Hoboken, send LIRR to Long Island City, and hire a lot of ferries. This is NOT the best ideas.

              Penn has passenger overcrowding. This needs to be dealt with.
              It does NOT need more tracks (through-running would handle that). It DOES need more foot space.

        • Nathanael says:

          “On a side note, I traveled through the PABT this weekend, and compared to that, Penn Station is Grand Central.”

          I’ve done both. PABT is actually nicer in most ways. Penn is an overcrowded, claustrophobic hellhole. PABT isn’t overcrowded or claustrophobic.

          However, PABT has pigeons. Indoors. Which tends to rather eliminate all the other advantages it has.

    • Chris says:

      For less than the cost of this stair widening you could fund an endowment that would just give every 100th person traveling through Penn Station a $5 bill in perpetuity. I frankly suspect that if asked the actual users would in large part rather take the cash, rather than endure the sure-to-be more disruptive than expected construction on the way to a minor incremental improvement, and in that sense actually going forward and building really is a waste.

      If on the other hand users actually would gain enough benefit from the project to justify this price point, then underfunding should hardly be a problem – you have a huge mass of people who want to pay for something, a huge revenue collection operation that extracts money from those people… put 2 and 2 together, simple enough.

  3. Boris says:

    The project does nominally enhance freedom of mobility by giving existing and future rail riders more options, but it’s hardly justifiable by the price.

    I also find it hilarious that one of the key players who killed East River/Harlem River bridge tolls back in the 70′s is getting transit infrastructure named after him.

    • Nathanael says:

      Nothing is justifiable at the prices the New York City Transit Construction Mafia charge.

      They are outrageous and way out of line with the prices even in such corruption-riddled places as Chicago.

      I would really like to know what’s going on with public construction costs in NYC. You guys need to fix it. It’s getting to be Tweed Courthouse level.

  4. Scott E says:

    The West-End Concourse is, today, accessible only via a passageway through the IND 8th Avenue subway, if I recall. It serves only LIRR tracks 13-18,and getting there from the rest of Penn Station is quite circuitous. (Does the initial goal to “double the width of the 33rd St. Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse” mean touching this ugly MTA passageway, or is there another one I don’t know about?).

    If you lengthen and widen a concourse which barely goes anywhere, in particular to allow access to the Amtrak and NJT platforms, you’ll just end up with more confused passengers who end up in that corridor and then don’t know where to go.

    • Nathanael says:

      The West End Concourse is planned to have new exits into the Farley Building. These are still funded, but are now planned to be put out for bid separately. The WSJ article is misleading, as it implies that parts of the project are being cancelled entirely; in fact, this is largely a process of repackaging construction contracts.

  5. Phantom says:

    I love trains and train stations but its time to pull the plug on this.

    I see endless cost overruns and delays for a project that most New Yorkers won’t ever set foot in.

    NYC has an exceptionally poor record at getting big projects done in the past 50 years.

    If you wanted it, it would be built already.

  6. Christopher A. says:

    Given everything, it doesn’t make sense to reuse the old post office building for a slightly relocated Amtrak station. Let’s the darned building become a museum instead.

    As for Penn Station, it would make sense to take some of the savings and find ways to add capacity. Do we need new tunnels? Yes! But why can’t we put the financial risk on the contractors instead of the state governments? Let them make a big profit if possible, but absorb the big risk of cost overruns. I’d rather hold a project up because we’re researching project requirements, than to start and find we’re getting “scope and requirements creep”. It’d be nice to see a public works project not follow the usual pattern of “ready, fire, aim….”

    • Phantom says:

      How about putting some financial risk on the unions?

      They benefit financially by milking the job and there is a lot of out of control Workers Comp costs and Labor Law ” fall ” losses that you don’t see in other states.

      The contractors aren’t angels but the fact is that you have an awful union labor environment in NY which means costs are always sky high and budgets can never have meaning

    • Chris says:

      The reality of this is that the initial bids would simply be much higher, making projects harder to start in the first place. The state bearing the risks of cost overruns allows for lowball initial bids, which helps projects get approved under the current system.

      • Phantom says:

        Right now it appears that initial bids don’t mean anything

        This cannot continue

        Are meaningless bids the norm on other cities or states?

  7. Al D says:

    the way penn is adminsitered seems non cohesive. lirr gets to build in their wing, same for njt, now amtrak moving across the street. of course then there’s the cuzinn arc. a master plan and master leadership is needed.

    the old penn is gone forever, that fact needs to be accepted. it was a victim of the times, and it is never, ever coming back in any way shape of form. what’s needed instead is a grand vision or reimaging based on what’s there already, and not just moving 1 tenant (or the owner) across the street.

    • Nathanael says:

      Grand visions have consistently failed. I think this is why Amtrak is trying to get what it can.

      Penn Station is the worst station on the Northeast Corridor, with the possible exception of North Philadelphia. Any improvement to passenger walking-about room will help.

  8. Anon says:

    OT: Re: The MTA’s brain-drain problem at the top
    Managers now approaching 5 years without a raise (5 Years!).

    • Story in the works. Hopefully by the end of February. It’s a very delicate topic as you can imagine.

      • Anon says:

        I hear there are other non-union employees (in addition to the mgrs) that are waiting nearly as long for a raise. The unions get raises (not that there is anything wrong with that) but their co-workers (often doing identical jobs) have no one “fighting” for them and get what is officially called bupkis.

  9. jim says:

    Moynihan isn’t necessary. The billion dollars or so that it would cost would be much better spent towards a new trans-Hudson tunnel. Even one additional track between Secaucus and New York Penn would do much more good.

    Penn Station has enough platforms and tracks, were they to be used efficiently, to handle all the trains that could enter the station even after a new trans-Hudson tunnel pair is built. The problem is they aren’t used efficiently:

    1. Amtrak schedules 15 minute dwells for their high speed trains at NYP!
    2. The central platforms (tracks 5-12) don’t have enough vertical access elements (staircases and escalators) so it takes a long time for platforms to clear after passengers alight.
    3 (and most important). NJT uses through tracks as though they were stubs, turning trains around in the station.

    These are curable. Amtrak could run trains on time, instead of using long dwells for schedule recovery. More vertical accesses could be built (the Western Concourse will help here). And NJT could run through and turn trains elsewhere. This will cost NJT in trackage and yard rental, so someone has to be the bad guy and force them.

    Above the tracks, Penn Station consists of two full city blocks (roughly 500 ft. X 1000 ft.) on two levels. That’s on the order of a million potential square feet. Much of this is walled off to form back offices or rented out to retail of dubious value. If this were better organized with better wayfinding signage and more of it made available to passengers, there would be far fewer complaints about cramped conditions and mazes. Reconstructing the interior of the existing Penn Station isn’t as sexy as building a new station, though, and one can’t name it after dead people.

    • Bolwerk says:

      This will cost NJT in trackage and yard rental, so someone has to be the bad guy and force them.

      Or, someone can pay them to let them run to Long Island or through to Connecticut or something.

      • Nathanael says:

        The real institutional problem is at LIRR, which won’t play ball with anyone else. Running NJT trains through to Connecticut would mean either excessive service to Connecticut, or reducing service on Metro-North to Grand Central, which would make service worse.

        Running them through to Long Island would require catenary on Long Island, and cooperation of LIRR, and would save money for BOTH LIRR and NJT. But LIRR doesn’t like to cooperate with anyone else, not even Metro-North. It’s also got what is quite likely the worst union attitude in the country. Shutting the entire thing down and handing it to a different management would probably actually improve the LIRR.

    • Jack Transit says:

      Your comment makes no sense. You advocate for more vertical access elements in Penn and then trash the Moynihan Staton Project, which is the only plan for adding new vertical access elements–15 in Phase 1 and another 12 in Phase 2. This will allow passengers to clear the platforms much faster and result in less dwell time for trains. The new station will also increase the waiting area capacity of the overall complex by a third, dramatically reducing the congestion now experienced by users of Penn.

      • jim says:

        There’s plenty of room in existing Penn to add vertical access elements. The reason it isn’t done is that there are back offices or retail above the platforms. If they were only cleared away, it would be grand.

        The same thing for passenger waiting areas.

        • John R says:

          This would cost a lot of money as well- ultimately probably more. At least with Moynihan, there’s less diruption to what’s there now.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Kicking out the back offices and concessions, which occupy half the area of the lower concourse, costs almost nothing. Adding staircases costs little – the LIRR did it in its fiefdom above the northern tracks in the 1990s.

            • Nathanael says:

              Actually, kicking out the back offices costs quite a lot (where are you going to put them and how much is the rent?) but feel free to deny that.

              Worse, “adding staircases” is harder than you think. Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of the lower concourse simply doesn’t extend south of 32nd street, and would have to be built. At higher costs than building the expanded Moynihan concourse.

  10. AlexB says:

    Let’s say ARC is revived or the Gateway Tunnel moves forward with Penn Station South between 30th and 31st. If you add Moynihan to the mix, you end up with a circuitous underground maze stretching 2 avenues and 3 blocks long. By the time it’s finished, there will be so many crappy concourses with bad retail and so many people who have no idea where they are going, it will just be a constant annoying mess.

    What the city, state and/or federal governments need to do is tear down everything between 7th and 8th Avenues between 31st and 33rd Sts down tot he level of the platforms and start from scratch. Make the organization of everything clear and simple and create tons of space for pedestrians to gather at street level. Build very few buildings above ground and let light come down onto the tracks. While the post office is very nice, only the part right next to 8th Ave will be of any usefulness and the building will never be much more than a formality. There are other suitable locations for the Garden. Near a train station is excellent. On top of one is not. Increase the FAR around Penn and create a huge office district to rival the area around Grand Central. Don’t build directly over the station.

    • Nathanael says:

      Well, yes, but for some reason Madison Square Garden seems to be untouchable.

      Chicago is seriously talking about knocking down the building which was put on top of the Union Station concourse there; why doesn’t New York talk about knocking down MSG? Move it over the West End Yards or something. :-)

  11. Matt says:

    is it possible to move the entire NJ Transit operation to the post office?

    • jim says:

      After David Gunn withdrew Amtrak from the project, the ’06 FEIS envisaged NJT as the anchor tenant for the station. But much of NJT’s operation would remain in Penn. NJT uses the four stub tracks (tracks 1-4). No one else can, since everyone else runs through. But these tracks aren’t accessible from the Farley Building: the platforms are short and don’t extend that far.

      The current (’10) update to the FEIS has two options for Moynihan: Amtrak as anchor tenant (where the layout would be specific to Amtrak’s needs and Amtrak would use about 100,000 sqft) and an open station with no anchor tenant. Given that Amtrak’s said that it isn’t actually willing to pay any rent to use Moynihan, I’d bet on the second option.

      New York wants to build a station there. It doesn’t care whether anyone will use it.

  12. TrainJunkie says:

    Your post about Moynihan Station reveal a total lack of understanding of the project, Penn Station or how major infrastructure works are funded or executed in this City. There are plenty of examples of overreach and waste–the Calatrava Hub, even East Side Access. Moynihan Station is not one of them. For about $500 million, a fraction of the cost of those other projects, the Penn Complex will be tripled in size and more than 30 new stairs, escalators and elevators will be added to the platforms, speeding passenger egress and improving safety. This will also reduce dwell times for trains, allowing for an incremental increase in the number of trains using the station for a far less cost than adding new tracks or tunnels. Lastly, nothing will ever happen to Penn Station that is of any real significance until Moynihan Station is complete. Where’s the space in Penn? Don’t kid yourself. Behind every wall there are offices and other back of house spaces used by all of the railroads. There is no room to do anything. Besides that, the estimate for renovating Penn is $2 – 3 billion–far more than the cost of Moynihan Station. There’s a saying, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” I think it applies here. Would we rather tear down MSG? Would we rather the old penn had never been torn down? Would we like new tracks and platforms at some point? Yes to all. But that doesn’t mean that making the incremental investment in Moynihan, which will vastly improve the busiest intercity rail station in the country, is a waste of money.

    • And your comments as well as your decision to use different user names to reply to different people show a total lack of proper manners, online etiquette or knowledge of the situation. In which reality will Moynihan Station cost only $500 million? As of a few years ago, the project was budgeted for over $1.5 billion, and if you think the final cost is going to be anything close to that, I have a nice bridge to sell you.

  13. Woody says:

    Turning this project over to the Port Authority is a massive mistake. Instead it should have been turned over to Janette Sadik-Kahn and the NYC DOT. With a lot of smarts and a few cans of paint Sadik-Kahn and her crew have untangled crowded intersections above ground; let them try their hand at Penn Station below ground.

  14. Patton says:

    This project is a complete waste of money, and there is no legislation re-naming the Farley Post Office…Moynhan Staton. Amtrak in the Courtyard of the Farley Building is the Moynihan Station.

    I find it disturbing that the boosters behind this project keep saying the post office is being “transformed” and all this other garbage like …”the former Farley Post Offce”. Its the Farley Building….stop trying to roll back the Welfare State you corporate shills. Farley put FDR n office…that’s why the Monument is dedicated in his honor….don’t let them sell you this “Benign Neglect” station to no-where. Put it before a referendum let the people decide! The only people who want Moynihan Station are the members of the Municipal Arts Society and the Developers…..who s protecting this landmark….wasn’t the original Penn Destroyed over Air Rights…..don’t the developers wants the Air Rights over the Farley Building?

    The Farley Post Office s not leaving…the ticket windows are going to remain….look it up their is no legislation rededicating the landmark…only Amtraks facilities.

    If Moynihan Staton is ever completed….the Landmark is still Officially the James A. Farley Post Office!

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