Forecasting the Next Capital Plan: Penn Station AccessBy
At some point in the future — hopefully soon — the MTA will again have a permanent chairman and CEO in charge of setting the direction for the agency’s future. The MetroCard replacement project can ramp back up, and, more importantly, such a person can begin to assemble the pieces for the MTA’s next five-year capital plan. In the meantime, we can glimpse the capital future from the bits and pieces that leak out to the public.
Already, we know the MTA will be focusing at least in part on an aggressive effort to modernize its subway signals. We don’t know what will happen with future phases of the Second Ave. Subway, but it would be foolish to build just Phase 1 while allowing plans for the full line to be discarded. Meanwhile, though, Penn Station and Metro-North are clearly in the the MTA’s and politicians’ sight lines.
When the East Side Access project wraps in 2018 or 2019 and the Long Island Rail Road deposits tens of thousands of riders into a deep cavern beneath Grand Central, Metro-North will have the ability to shift some rides to the West Side. We know that the MTA is moving forward with Penn Station Access studies, and now we learn that politicians are pushing the plan as well. Officials want Penn Station Access ready to go in 2019, and do that requires some aggressive planning and funding now.
DNA Info’s Patrick Wall has the story:
Their route set and destination in sight, Bronx and MTA officials are now pushing to secure funding and station space in order to send Metro-North trains rolling through the East Bronx by 2019.
To enact the plan to build four new East Bronx stations where residents could catch Metro-North trains to Connecticut or to Manhattan’s West Side, up to $800 million and train slots in Penn Station are needed. For its part, the MTA, which operates Metro-North, has co-sponsored a soon-to-be-completed study to analyze whether Metro-North trains could fit in Penn Station and has been searching for possible funding sources, including Connecticut’s Transportation Department.
Bronx elected officials, most notably Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., have been lobbying state lawmakers to fund the project in the MTA’s next capital budget and demanding that Long Island state senators share Penn Station space currently used by the Long Island Rail Road.
On Monday [the 11th], Diaz urged members of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce to wield their influence to win politicians’ backing for the project. “You let them know that if they want you to be supportive of them, they have to be supportive of The Bronx,” Diaz said at a public meeting hosted by the Chamber. “What better way than to have this legendary, transformative project come to fruition in our borough? You make that case to them.”
This project is a no-brainer in some ways. It requires no additional tunneling and opens up the West Side to transit riders from the Bronx and points north. On the other hand, the costs are tough to pin down at this early stage. Some initial estimates pegged the spend at around $400 million, but this recent report has the cost at twice that earlier figure. Costs will shift until — and probably after — a concrete plan is in place.
Additionally, Long Island politicians are playing both tough to get and selfish. They claim that the LIRR will still need the slots in Penn Station after East Side Access opens and won’t share with other New Yorkers who may want to access the West Side from points north. On the surface, it’s a silly argument that likely isn’t supported by ridership, but it’s one that will play out over the next few years.
Meanwhile, as DNA Info notes, for this West Side Access project to be included in the next five-year capital plan, the MTA will need to wrap up the environmental impact statement, identify operating partners and develop a space-sharing plan for Penn Station. These are obstacles but nothing that cannot be overcome. To improve mobility in the reason, Penn Station Access should see the light of day, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it over the next few years.