For the last few months, we’ve heard a lot about the future of Madison Square Garden and its relationship to Penn Station. Community groups and various city stakeholders believe MSG should not be granted an unlimited license to operate about Penn Station, but there’s a sneaking suspicion that these efforts are fronted by those who care first about reclaiming a grand building for Penn Station and second about expanded transit access into and through New York City. The debate may soon come to a head with a time limit on MSG but also an out that could render the time limit pointless.
In a story published last night on Capital New York, Dana Rubinstein reports on a gift for Madison Square Garden from the city that could arrive as early as Wednesday. Here’s her take:
The city will in fact propose a 15-year renewal, rather than a 50-year one, which is in theory a victory for the planners. But the proposal also contains a major loophole: if the Garden meets certain conditions during those 15 years, it can get a permit to remain on top of Penn Station in perpetuity.
Namely, the Garden would have to come to some sort of an agreement with the three railroads that run beneath it to make improvements to the station, like adding new escalators and elevators. If such an agreement were to reached, and the City Planning Commission’s chair (who is appointed by the mayor) were to approve it, then the Garden could remain where it is, on top of the ever-more-crowded Penn Station. Its special permit, in other words, would have no expiration date.
“We think this exception would be a mistake,” wrote Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, and Vin Cipolla, the president of the Municipal Art Society, in a letter to planning commissioner Amanda Burden last week. “Although the City Planning Commission cannot solve this problem singlehandedly, we would like to underscore that the only way to regain a train station worthy of New York’s status as a global city and to meet the needs of a growing economy and population is to relocate the Garden and build a new station from the track and platform level up.”
Without knowing the full details of the agreement, I’m withholding full judgment on the deal. There has to be more to it than some new escalators and elevators as those are instead seemingly the centerpieces of the $1.6 billion Moynihan Station plan. Hopefully, there is more to it, and we’ll find that out on Wednesday.
On the other hand, Yaro’s concern again seems to focus around the building, but if you read his statement closely, it’s more of an appeal to sensibility. He wants that new station from the track and platform level up, and that’s the key. New York City needs to redesign Penn Station from the bottom up, and if it comes with a new headhouse that looks nice and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, then fine. If MSG can figure out a way to improve the track, platform and station concourse levels while maintaining an arena above ground, that’s fine too really. Simply put, we need to focus on the transit experience at Penn Station first.
Of course, not everyone agrees. In The Post yesterday, Steve Cuozzo penned a persnickety piece on Penn Station. Comparing a potential new Penn to the absurdly expensive and functionally questionable buildings at Fulton St. and the PATH WTC Hub, he writes, “Penn Station remains tolerably clean, safe and functional. Its lack of sex appeal hardly justifies the cost and years of chaos that trying to beautify it would entail… Let Penn Station be Penn Station. Remember, many thought it a fine idea in the 1960s. Let it remind us that change is not always to our good.”
But that’s quite right either. Penn Station has stretched the boundaries of functionality, and at rush hour, frequent users would question even that limited appeal. It also has no room for growth in ridership or trans-Hudson service. Right now, all we know is that something needs to be done. We don’t know what or how, and if it means keeping MSG on ice for a few years, so be it. The arena will still recoup of the costs of its recent renovations and then some, but the chance to right the Penn Station transit wrongs doesn’t come around too frequently.
As repair continues along the 2000-foot section of track damaged by Friday’s derailment and collision, Metro-North officials said today that they anticipate restoring full peak service in time for Wednesday morning’s commute. “We are confident that the reconstruction work, inspection and testing will be completed in time for a normal rush hour on Wednesday,” Metro-North President Howard Permut said in a statement. The shuttle bus/train combination in place on Monday will last through the day on Tuesday.
The MTA, meanwhile, reported that 750 people took the train/bus combo from Bridgeport to Stamford. That figure represents that 20 percent of the usual a.m. peak ridership at New Haven, Milford and Stratford. But overall peak ridership declined by just 20 percent on Monday as Connecticut travelers drove to nearby stations to catch their trains. The Harlem Line saw a bump in ridership by around six percent over a typical Monday.
Despite Metro-North’s good news, Amtrak has yet to announce restoration of service along the Northeast Corridor from Boston to New York. I’ll have more as news breaks.
As part of the MTA’s effort at making travel easier for parents with small children, kids 44 inches tall and under may ride the subways and buses for free when accompanied by an adult, but this rule has some strange consequences. The problem, as one Staten Island Council member recently noted, is that height isn’t consistent across ages. As growth charts show, some kids may reach 44 inches at 4 while others may not get there until almost 7 years of age.
Debi Rose wants the MTA to address this problem by moving toward an age-based solution. Based on the 50th percentile on the height charts, children five and under can ride for free. “Due to healthy eating and diet, and the fact that some families are just predisposed towards height — towards tallness — they are being charged the full fare for children who look like they’re older than 5, but in essence are not,” Rose said to the Staten Island Advance.
Of course, age is just as challenging to enforce as a height limit. Kids taller than 44 inches frequently pop under the turnstiles, often at the urging of their parents, and there’s no real way for a bus driver to ascertain a child’s age. Still, for those that embrace the honor system, an age limit seems more reasonable than a height limit, no?
As Metro-North crews work to repair the twisted rails and investigators continue to probe Friday’s derailment/collision, the MTA is warning that commute woes could continue well into the coming week. The accident has snarled traffic throughout the Northeast Corridor, and it serves to underscore how fragile the region’s transportation is and how disjoined coordination across entities can be.
The MTA and Connecticut’s Department of Transportation have put in place a plan for the 30,000 customers impacted by the 31-mile outage near the east end of the New Haven Line. On Monday morning, a shuttle train will run between New Haven and Bridgeport with express buses providing service to Stamford where trains to the city will be running. Local buses will operate to and from Bridgeport, Fairfield Metro, Fairfield and Westport, but no buses will serve Southport or Greens Farms. All in all, 120 buses from CT Transit, MTA Bus and other local companies will provide service. It won’t be enough.
The MTA has a full list of service changes and advisories posted on its website but offers up some bullet points, a few more obvious than others, as well.
- Travel times will be significantly longer than normal and trains will be significantly crowded.
- New Haven Line Customers east of South Norwalk are encouraged to seek alternative ways to get to and from work or stagger their work schedule.
- If possible, customers are advised to use the Harlem Line as an alternative. New Haven Line rail tickets will be cross-honored.
- ConnDOT will cross-honor New Haven Line pre-paid rail tickets (as a temporary Bus/Rail uniticket) on I-95 Corridor Bus Service.
- Metro-North will cross-honor Amtrak tickets.
Speaking of Amtrak, let’s how the nation’s rail carrier is handling it. On their alert page, they warn that service is suspended between New York and New Haven with limited service from New Haven to Boston. “There is no estimate on service restoration,” Amtrak warns.
Their solution is to foist every alternative planning onto Metro-North’s shoulders. “Starting Monday, Metro-North Railroad will offer alternate transportation for passengers traveling between New Haven, Conn., and Grand Central Terminal via a train-bus-train connection,” Amtrak’s website advises. “Amtrak passengers using this option will need to arrange for transportation between Grand Central and New York Penn Station.”
In Connecticut, the state is offering more free parking for commuters impacted by the service outages. As Chris O’Leary noted, this is likely to lead to more traffic and delays as buses are held up by drivers fighting for parking spots. It’s a transit armageddon, and I can’t even begin to imagine what I-95 will resemble come the morning.
Meanwhile, the alternate routes are a bloody mess. Cap’n Transit has been retweeting choice complaints in his Twitter timeline, and Northeast Corridor riders are finally experiencing the ineptitude of bus companies. There are complaints about routes to Manhattan that go through surface streets in the Bronx and routes to New Haven from Port Authority via New Jersey. Lines are hours long, and the bus companies offering extra service or even acknowledging the problems.
So we’re in a bad situation with no overall coordination. Two tracks are out of service due to scheduled track work while another set were heavily damaged by Friday’s collision, and no one has picked up the slack. Considering how many people are dependent upon this route for work, for life, for anything, this response is an indictment of the way we as a society view transit even in the most transit-accessible parts of the country.
In the first major accident in 25 years, two Metro-North trains collided on the tracks in Connecticut. The two trains crashed at around 6 p.m. on Friday evening, and although 60 people were injured, no deaths have been reported yet. Service on Metro-North has been suspended between South Norwalk and New Haven, and Amtrak trains are not running between New York and Boston.
According to a statement just released by the MTA, the 4:41 p.m. from Grand Central New Haven derailed near the I-95 overpass in Bridgeport, and the 5:30 from New Haven struck the derailed train. As yet, no official cause of the derailment has been ascertained, and investigations are ongoing. A few minutes ago, the National Transportation Safety Board announced via Twitter a Go-Team to head up its investigation, and MTA Police, local police, Connecticut Office of Emergency Management, the Federal Railroad Administration and the FBI are on the scene as well.
To make matters worse, although this is an area with four tracks, two of the tracks are out of service for catenary work, and the remaining two tracks were badly damaged by the collisions. The trains cannot be moved until the on-scene investigation is over, and normal service will not resume until the infrastructure has been repaired. It may yet be a while, and I’ll have more as the story unfolds.
N.B. If you’re looking for the weekend service advisories, scroll down or click here.
This is a big weekend for Brooklyn with the Googa Mooga festival all weekend and the Brooklyn Half Marathon, which I’m running, tomorrow morning. That said, there are a lot of service advisories impacting travel to both the Prospect Park area and Coney Island. So allow extra time for travel.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, uptown 1 trains run express from Chambers Street to 34th Street-Penn Station due to station painting at 28th Street and Canal Street.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, May 18, from 11:45 p.m. Saturday, May 18 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, May 19 and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, May 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, uptown 2 trains run express from Chambers Street to 34th Street-Penn Station due to station painting at 28th Street and Canal Street.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, May 18, from 11:45 p.m. Saturday, May 18 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, May 19 and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, May 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, downtown (Queens-bound) A trains run express from 59th Street-Columbus Circle to Canal Street due to track tie block renewal north of Spring Street and fan plant rehabilitation south of 14th Street.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, May 18, from 11:45 p.m. Saturday, May 18 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, May 19 and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, May 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, uptown (Manhattan-bound) A trains run express from Broadway Junction to Utica Avenue due to platform area rehabilitation at Utica Avenue.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19, downtown (Brooklyn-bound) C trains run express from 59th Street-Columbus Circle to Canal Street due to track tie block renewal north of String Street and fan plant rehabilitation south of 14th Street.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19, Manhattan-bound C trains run express from Broadway Junction to Utica Avenue due to platform area rehabilitation at Utica Avenue.
– WEEKEND FASTRACK
From 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19, there is no service between Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue and Bay Parkway on the D and between Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue and 86th Street on the N due to weekend FASTRACK inspection, testing and maintenance of signal equipment. Customers may use the F or Q trains instead. D customers may use the B64 bus at Stillwell Avenue and Bay 50th Street/Harway Avenue; the B82 bus at Bay Parkway; or the B1 at 25th Avenue. N customers may use B1 and B4 buses to Avenue X for F train service or to Ocean Parkway or Sheepshead Bay for Q train service.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, Manhattan-bound E trains are rerouted via the F line after 36th Street, Queens to 2nd Avenue due to track tie renewal in the 53rd Street tube.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, there is no E train service between World Trade Center and West 4th Street due to track tie renewal in the 53rd Street tube. Customers should take the A or C instead. E trains originate and terminate at the 2nd Avenue F station.
From 9:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, Jamaica-bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from 47th-50th Sts to Queens Plaza due to station work at Lexington Avenue-63rd Street for Second Avenue Subway project.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, Jamaica-bound F trains skip Fort Hamilton Parkway, 15th Street-Prospect Park and 4th Avenue-9th Street due to work on the Church Avenue Interlocking.
From 11 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, northbound G trains run express from Church Avenue to 4th Avenue-9th Street due to work on the Church Avenue Interlocking.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, G trains run every 20 minutes in both directions between Court Square and Bedford-Nostrand Avs. In addition, the last stop for some Court Square-bound G trains is Bedford-Nostrand Avs. due to lighting and cable work north of Nassau Avenue.
From 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 4:45 a.m. Monday, May 20, H (Shuttle train) service is suspended due to track panel installation between Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue and Beach 67th Street. Free shuttle buses operate between Far Rockaway and Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street, making station stops at Beach 25th Street, Beach 36th Street, Beach 44th Street, Beach 60th Street, Beach 67th Street, Beach 90th Street, Beach 98th Street and Beach 105th Street.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, May 18 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 19, Jamaica Center-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Avenue to Broadway Junction due to track panel installation north of Myrtle Avenue.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, M service is suspended. Free shuttle buses operate between Metropolitan Avenue and Myrtle Avenue making all station stops due to station renewal at Fresh Pond Road, Forest, Seneca, Knickerbocker and Central Avenues.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 20, uptown (Queens-bound) N trains skip 39th Avenue, 36th Avenue, Broadway and 30th Avenue in Queens due to station painting at 30th Avenue.
From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, May 18, Sunday, May 19 and Monday, May 20, uptown (57thStreet-7th Avenue-bound) Q trains stop at 49th Street due to station painting at 30th Avenue.
When WNYC and The Record published their in-depth examination of New Jersey Transit’s failures leading up to Hurricane Sandy, one aspect of their story seemed like a bad joke. In response to a FOIA request for the agency’s storm preparedness plans, NJ Transit had released a four-page memo, all of which had been redacted. It harkened back to an old Onion story, and The Record had filed suit to gain access to the documents.
Today, facing pressure from lawmakers and that lawsuit, NJ Transit released a less redacted version of their storm plans, and unsurprisingly, the document is light on details. Whereas the MTA keeps five three-inch binders worth of materials, New Jersey Transit’s plan is four pages long and offers mainly boilerplate warnings. It urges crews to keep trains out of flood-prone areas without divulging what those areas are and features timelines that many NJ Transit officials admit aren’t sufficient.
Karen Rouse has more:
Details in the plan are sparse and offer little explanation as to why so much of the fleet was left in low-lying areas. The plan does not specify an estimated number of locomotives and railcars that need to be moved to higher ground; system locations that need to be sandbagged; or the impact a storm could have on the shutdown. Such details, however, are in a hurricane plan released by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The NJ Transit plan includes language similar to what the agency used in its pre-Sandy press releases. It says that an orderly shutdown will ensure customers and employees are not at risk, cites the need to protect rolling stock and infrastructure from flooding, and warns that the agency should not announce to the public a date for service resumption until after inspections are completed.
But in contrast to press releases and statements from agency officials following Sandy — which told the public a minimum of 12 hours is needed to shut down the system — the plan says “the actual suspension of service” is triggered “at least 8 hours prior to the storm impacting the state.”
Rail operations Vice President Kevin O’Connor, however, has said that it is not possible to move the fleet in less than 12 hours. “Having a plan to remove the equipment is not possible in 12 hours,” he said in an interview last week. “There is no way I can move every piece of equipment out of the MMC [Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny] in 12 hours.”
A full copy of the plan, courtesy of Transportation Nation’s coverage, is embedded at the end of this post.
What we’re left with though is a confounding conclusion: New Jersey Transit lived through Hurricane Irene; it witnessed the MTA implement its own storm preparedness efforts; and it did the bare minimum to protect its key assets. Nothing that’s come out has made me reassess my view that NJ Transit’s response to Sandy was an absolute failure in leadership. That no one has been held responsible is a real insult to the 940,000 people who use the system every day.
As New York City works to recover from the lingering impact of Sandy, the headlining news from the MTA on Thursday was largely positive. A train service to the Rockaways will return on May 30, nearly a month ahead of schedule, and the subway system will again be complete. But it’s a superficial completeness as the damage from the storm and its surge will make its presence felt for months and years to come.
In conjunction with the good news about the A train, the MTA yesterday delivered a press briefing with the bad news. I didn’t have a chance to attend the briefing, but Matt Flegenheimer of The Times did. He shares the news:
Inside a crew room at the new South Ferry subway station, once flooded wall to wall with the waters of Hurricane Sandy, transit officials on Thursday offered a sobering progress report on a system that continues to feel the storm’s effects. Emergency repairs have proliferated. Exposure to saltwater accelerated the corrosion for many metallic parts, and reduced the useful life of equipment like cloth cable sheathings. Last month, a pump discharge line in the Canarsie tube, where the L train operates, ruptured under normal loads — residual evidence of the storm’s excessive stress on the system, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
And if a hurricane were to approach the city in the immediate term, the agency’s best option for fortifying stations would most likely be the same: sandbags, plywood, and the hope that water would not find a way through. “It’s sunny outside. it’s warm,” said Thomas F. Prendergast, the authority’s interim executive director and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s nominee to be chairman. “We’re about a month away from the start of another hurricane season.”
The authority said it was devising plans to protect itself against storms as powerful as a Category 2 hurricane, adding that officials would study whether it was possible to protect against Category 3 or Category 4 storms…Mr. Prendergast suggested that aboveground floodwall panels, to be placed over station stairwells or sidewalk vents, were seen as a leading option to protect the system. But he cautioned that these additions were unlikely to arrive for the start of the next hurricane season, leaving the authority with little choice but to rely on sandbags and plywood. “By and large, it worked very effectively,” he said of the low-tech remedies. “But we can do better.”
Even as Prendergast tries to put a positive spin on things, the fact remains that key points in the system — underwater tunnels between the boroughs — remain vulnerable to flooding and seriously damaged. The pump in the Canarsie Tube burst last month, and I’ve heard rumors of long-term saltwater damage in both the Montague St. Tunnel and the Greenpoint Tube that could require extensive repairs and service outages down the road.
In the materials accompanying the briefing, the MTA announced a variety of efforts. In addition to the new Sandy Recovery and Resiliency Division I discussed yesterday, plans include tunnel repair work, pump room and pump capacity augmentation; and flood mitigation and prevention efforts focused around vulnerable stations in Lower Manhattan and car yards in low-lying areas. Still, the challenges are extreme, and the MTA has to prepare for the worst. As the materials detail, for instance, the Montague St. Tunnel would fill with water in 30 minutes if flood levels reached just over five feet, and a Category 2 hurricane could lead to a storm surge of up to 16 feet.
Over the next six months, as hurricane season unfolds, the city’s transit network will remain vulnerable. It’s still recovering from last year’s storm and can ill afford another direct hit. Until these measures are in place, we’ll be relying on sandbags, plywood and some dumb luck while we hold our breaths and hope for the best.
The MTA twitter account broke the news first, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office put out the press release trumpeting the return of full A train service to the Rockaways a full month early. A train service across Broad Channel and into the Rockaways will begin again on Thursday, May 30, seven months since Sandy swept away the subway tracks and just in time for the summer beach season.
As part of the restoration efforts, the MTA had to rebuild 1500 feet of washed-out tracks, replace miles of signal, power and communications wires, and rehab two stations that were completely flooded by the storm surge. Additionally, crews buried a two-mile-long corrugated marine steel sheet wall 30 feet into the soil along Jamaica Bay to “to protect the track against future washouts and ensure the line is ready to handle future coastal storms.” (For more on what the MTA had to do to repair the damage, check out this laundry list of projects complete with photos.)
“Superstorm Sandy devastated the entire MTA network like no other storm, but the MTA did a remarkable job of restoring service following the storm and at the end of this month, the A line in the Rockaways will be up and running,” Governor Cuomo said. “The last six months have meant substantial cleanup and repair, leading to the rapid restoration of full service in all but the hardest-hit facilities. Now we must focus on the priority and challenge of making permanent repairs to keep the subways safe and reliable for years to come because the people and businesses of New York depend on a strong and robust mass transit system. The difficult work of rebuilding the system to be stronger and more resilient has just begun, but we will build back better and smarter than before.”
The surprise announcement, nearly a month early, came as the MTA unveiled a series of flood-mitigation measures. The agency demonstrated an inflatable tunnel plug near South Ferry and plans to implement these plugs at vulnerable spots throughout the system. Additionally, Cuomo and the MTA announced a Sandy Recovery and Resiliency Division which will manage the years-long, billion-dollar recovery effort. This new division will oversee efforts to protect stations, fan plants, under-river tubes, tunnels, ground-level tracks, signals, train shops and yards, traction power substations, circuit breaker houses, bus depots, train towers and public areas vulnerable to flooding. The first assessments are due in July.
For the MTA and, more importantly, the Rockaways, this announcement is a major milestone in the Sandy recovery efforts. One of the hardest hit areas is going to see its subway line reconnected to the rest of the system, and the only remaining outage is centered around the new South Ferry station. Still, from what I’ve heard, repair efforts will be extensive and may include some long-term service outages in some of the more badly damaged tunnels. The MTA has not yet commented (or firmly established) these plans.
Early last week, a Port Authority twitter accounted trumped the installation of the first above-grade part of the Calatrava PATH Hub. For the Port Authority and Lower Manhattan, it was a big moment. In fits and starts, the Hub has taken shape, and even though it won’t open for a few years, it’s finally getting somewhere. It’s an occasion worth celebrating, but perhaps a tepid celebration is in order.
Over the years, I’ve written skeptically about PATH’s new World Trade Center hub. It is a $3.7 billion monument to Santiago Calatrava that does little to advance transit access to Lower Manhattan. It doesn’t offer added capacity; it doesn’t expand PATH’s reach. It is, in essence, the world’s most expensive subway stop.
It’s almost flippant to refer to the PATH hub as an overpriced subway terminal even if that’s what it is because the expense and construction time have had a very negative impact on Port Authority’s other transit-related projects. With so much money sunk into the PATH station, other efforts have taken second stage, but until recently, we haven’t had a good grasp on the extent of the situation. That changed this week when Stephen J. Smith published an in-depth look at the PATH hub. He is, as expected, very critical of the entire project, and I will excerpt liberally.
We start with its cost and origins:
When the grandiose ambitions and the emotions of 9/11 met with the famously flush Port Authority, disaster struck. Mission creep, an inattentive governor and extreme politicization sent costs skyward, eventually outstripping even the record-setting resources devoted to it. Its wings had to be stilled and its supports thickened, the bird in flight devolving into an immobilized stegosaurus. The world’s most expensive train station, it seems, was not expensive enough to contain all of New York’s dreams.
For nearly $4 billion, most cities could build entire subway lines. Even the MTA, which frequently breaks cost records of its own, managed to build its Fulton Center hub, a renovation of five densely tangled lines, for $1.4 billion. Nobody’s subway tunnels cost more than the MTA’s, but even they could fund most of the second phase of the Second Avenue subway, from 96th Street to 125th, with that kind of cash.
The World Trade Center PATH station is actually not a particularly busy one. “No one intelligently could say that the level of design and architecture associated with it was commensurate with the level of usage,” said one former commissioner. (Like nearly everyone we interviewed for this story, he would only speak on the condition of anonymity.)
To make matters worse, the World Trade Center station doesn’t draw the traffic to warrant the expense. It is the city’s tenth busiest subway stop when stacked against the MTA’s own ridership, and no one is advocating for a $3 billion station at Lexington Ave. and 53rd St.
Beyond that, Smith tells the story of its funding: When originally proposed by Calatrava, the $1.9 billion price tag was a red herring. Port Authority and the feds came to terms on the grant before anyone knew how much the full project would cost, and the various stakeholders took advantage of the uncertainty. Site foundation costs are baked into the PATH Hub costs, and a lot of common infrastructure costs eventually foisted onto Port Authority “might not have passed the FTA’s muster,” Smith explains.
Port Authority had a chance to reign in costs. One of its heads, appointed by Eliot Spitzer, vowed to cap spending at $2.5 billion and had a plan that eliminated many superfluous elements to keep costs down. But, as with many transit expansion efforts in New York, this one too fell by the wayside when Spitzer resigned in the wake of his sex scandal. Chris Ward, Gov. David Paterson’s replacement, wanted to see accomplishments, never mind the costs. So Calatrava’s passageways and wings were retained, and the project marches ever onward as it becomes the world’s most expensive subway stop.
Are there lessons we can take from this? Of course, there are, but it’s not really about Albany oversight or better control over Port Authority’s purse strings. Rather, it’s a lesson that should unfold a few miles north at the site of what is currently Madison Square Garden. Pending a City Council vote, various city stakeholders seem serious about the opportunity to do something about Penn Station and MSG, and, for better or worse, that something will involve a new station house.
The mistakes of the World Trade Center Hub should not be repeated at Penn Station. If the city overhauls Penn Station, transit expansion should trump a fancy building designed by a big-name architect who wants to leave his mark on New York. We’ve spent far too much on buildings that do far too little to improve the region’s mobility problems, and that time should end. If we learn one thing from the PATH debacle, it should be that.