Once more unto the Moynihan Station morassBy
Every now and then, New York City collectively remembers that Moynihan Station remains an idea slowly inching toward reality, and every now and then, Moynihan Station makes its way back into the headlines of the city’s newspapers. The project officially got underway in 2012 with a very modest Phase 1 build-out involving some staircases and access points to Amtrak platforms, and earlier this year, it seemed that forces were slowly aligning behind the long-aborning effort. Now, it’s back, with funding and a vengeance, and could be closer to reality than we think.
The latest comes to us from Charles V. Bagli of The New York Times. According to Bagli’s report, the station plans are nearly fully funded, and Senator Chuck Schumer is asking the feds and Amtrak to close the gap. We’ll get to that shortly, as, in the meantime, I find Bagli’s article telling for what it doesn’t say than for what it does.
In reintroducing The Times’ readership to Moynihan Station, Bagli runs through the litany of folks lining up to support the project. Calling it a “$1 billion proposal to create a grand annex to Pennsylvania Station,” Bagli notes that Moynihan is “a favorite project of civic organizations, developers and politicians.” Notice who’s missing: planners and transit advocates. That’s because it’s not really a favorite project for that group. The Farley Post Office is west of 8th Ave., a full avenue block away from the IRT lines and two avenues from the BMT and IND at Herald Square. Unlike Penn Station, which straddles two subway lines, it’s not particularly well located to serve as a centralized train station, and the building design, with sweeping staircases, isn’t luggage-friendly. Still the project marches on.
One small step nearing completion is the enlargement of the existing concourses serving the train platforms below the blocklong post office and the expansion of a passageway beneath Eighth Avenue to Penn Station. And on Tuesday, Senator Charles E. Schumer, long a proponent of what is known as Moynihan Station, called on Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration to provide the remaining money necessary for the next phase: building a skylit, intercity train hall in the post office for Amtrak. “After years of dreaming and work, Moynihan Station is on the precipice of success,” Mr. Schumer said. “Let’s access available federal money — from the F.T.A., Amtrak and elsewhere — to get it done now.”
…The state’s Moynihan Station Development Corporation is overseeing the $300 million first phase of the project, which is expected to be completed next year…But state officials have a $700 million construction budget for building the train hall, where postal workers once sorted mail, and retail spaces. The hall would be roughly the same size as the great hall in Grand Central Terminal.
…Mr. Schumer said that the development corporation had pledges for $500 million, from the city and two developers chosen in 2005 to create the Moynihan transit hub. That leaves a $200 million shortfall, which Mr. Schumer said should be filled by federal funds.
Bagli rehashes how various plans to move Madison Square Garden have fallen through, and he even drags a perfunctory quote out of Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia. “Although our resources are limited, we think this is an important project. We’ll do everything in our power to make it a reality,” he said. “Right now, the most important thing is to serve the rapidly growing demand for train service along the Northeast corridor.”
But the largest problem with the project remains firmly in place: For $1 billion, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation is creating a nicer waiting room for Amtrak without contemplated or expanded train capacity through the station. There’s no denying that Penn Station needs fixing. It’s not a pleasant place to be, and that inevitably will lead some people to eschew train service. But as dollars for transit are scarce, the priority should be expanding trans-Hudson capacity.
The Times reserves this inconvenient truth for the kicker of the article. By paraphrasing Bob Yaro, outgoing head of the Regional Plan Association, Bagli notes that without another Hudson River tunnel or an expansion of Penn Station to the south, Moynihan Station is simply a nicer shell for an older problem. Gateway, anybody?