Archive for Moynihan Station

A diagram from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement shows some of Vornado’s transit improements plans for the 33rd St. area. (15 Penn Plaza – DEIS)

In writing about shuttered subway passageways lost to time yesterday, I mentioned briefly Vornado’s plans to reactivate the Gimbel’s passageway between 6th and 7th Avenues underneath 33rd St. The proposal is part of the real estate company’s 15 Penn Plaza project that would see a 1200-foot mixed-use building replace replace the Hotel Pennsylvania, and as part of their plans, Vornado has proposed sweeping transit improvements that would unite subway lines in the Penn Station area.

Last night, at a presentation in front of Community Board 5 on 15 Penn Plaza, the MTA had an opportunity to present and discuss the transit improvements. Bob Paley, director of transit-oriented development at the MTA, spoke at the meeting as he highlighted this “excellent example of transit oriented development.” It is, he explained, a part of the city’s plans to bring Moynihan Station from an idea to reality.

“The redevelopment of the Hotel Pennsylvania site,” Paley said, “offers the ability to move ahead with some of the most critical aspects of the work that needs to be done [for Moynihan Station] – including the enlargement, reconstruction and reopening of the Gimbel’s Passageway and the improvement of specific platform locations, vertical escalation, and subway entrances that are within or adjacent to this full block property.”

A rendering of a proposed entrance to the IRT along 33rd St. off of 7th Ave. (Click to enlarge)

The main thrust of the improvements, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, would involve reactivated that old Gimbel’s passageway underneath 33rd St. “The renovated passageway would be widened to accommodate pedestrian flows between Penn Station/the Seventh Avenue subway lines and the Sixth Avenue subway lines and the Port Authority Trans Hudson station, improving pedestrian circulation on the street- level sidewalks,” the document says. “The passageway would provide an alternative to pedestrians traveling along the 33rd Street corridor.”

The Post’s Steve Cuozzo discusses how the old passageway would be completely overhauled. Instead of a nine-foot wide, dimly-lit tunnel replete with sketchy characters, the new tunnel would be 16 feet wide and would resemble the underground concourses at Rockefeller Center. The MTA estimates that, in good weather, 10-14,000 people per day would make use of the connection. Although Cuozzo claims that the passageway would provide a free transfer between the IRT at 34th and 7th Ave. and the IND/BMT stop at Herald Square, the DEIS image, shown above, features fare control areas at either end. Still, simply uniting the two stations underground would make walking through a highly congested area much easier.

Vornado, working with the MTA and PATH, has proposed a slew of other improvements to meet the increased transit demands of their massive building – the third highest in the city if it is to see the light of day. These include:

  • Widening the stair from the Seventh Avenue southbound local platform to the 32nd Street underpass;
  • Building a new stairway to the center platform from the 32nd Street/Seventh Avenue underpass;
  • Widening the Seventh Avenue northbound local platform between West 32nd and West 33rd Streets by six feet;
  • Building new subway entrances at Seventh Avenue and West 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue and West 33rd Street, each of which would include a 10-foot-wide set of stairs through the proposed building;
  • Constructing a new street elevator at the Seventh Avenue and West 33rd Street entrance;
  • Widening the Sixth Avenue and West 32nd Street PATH entrance stairs by 10 feet, and adding one escalator;
  • Constructing one escalator at the Sixth Avenue and West 33rd Street subway entrance;
  • Constructing a 10-foot staircase from the PATH to the B, D, F, and V platform near West 32nd Street;
  • Constructing a 15-foot staircase from the PATH to the B, D, F, and V platform near West 33rd Street; and
  • Reconfiguring the fare control area to accommodate new stairs from the PATH to the B, D, F, and V platforms.

This plan, says the MTA, is estimated to cost approximately $150 million, and Vornado has shown a complete willingness to fund these upgrades. “The public benefit of funding from a private partner willing to take on the significant planning and construction work to implement these improvements is even more critical in today’s environment of limited capital funding than it was when these discussions began several years ago,” Paley said.

Of course, it looks good on paper, but it’s future is no sure thing. Vornado says it could have the building open in four and a half years, and the DEIS claims a completion date in 2014. Cuozzo reports, however, that the company won’t start construction until it “pre-signs at least one large office tenant – which could take years.” The company remains committed to gaining approval now.

In a sense, these improvements would create a hub similar to those at Times Square and Fulton St. for transit in an area exceedingly difficult to navigate. PATH access would be improved, and the Penn Station area catacombs would begin to clear up. It is a prime example of transit-oriented development and a public-private partnership that sees much-needed transit upgrades funded by a developer with money that plans to increase transit demand. It just makes sense.

“It is for those reasons,” Paley said last night, “that the MTA strongly supports this project – both the subway and transit improvements and the new tower that will rise above them. Although we can’t bring back the old Penn Station, through a series of very significant improvements such as those proposed as part of this development, we will be able to bring back the high level of convenience and amenity that the public deserves.”

Update (2:10 p.m.): For what it’s worth, Community Board 5 last night voted 36-1 against Vornado’s plan for 15 Penn Plaza. Eliot Brown offers some insight into the vote:

Many community board members seemed almost offended that Vornado had requested both an air rights bonus for its transit improvements and an additional increase in the density beyond what they would normally be allowed (one called it “double dipping”). Still, community boards often vote against projects, and some board members did acknowledge that this was a good space for a tall building.

While the Community Board asked Vornado to come back when it had a tenant in place, the reality is that this vote doesn’t matter. The City Council will eventually decide whether or not to approve this project, and odds are good that they will give it the OK. Stay tuned.

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Six weeks after the Moynihan Station projected earned an $83 million TIGER grant that will enable the city to build Phase I of the ambitious Penn Station expansion plan, New York’s Empire State Development Corporation has approved the amended General Project Plan. (View the amended Project Plan here.) The ESDC vote kicked off the public approval process, and the next major milestone will be a public hearing on Wednesday April 28 at the Farley Post Office, the future site of the project.

“Too many have waited too long for relief at Penn Station,” Robin Stout, Moynihan Station Development Corporation president said in a statement after the vote. “As we move through the public approval process, we will also be concluding our design and documentation so that Phase 1 construction can begin as soon as possible.”

As the Moynihan Station plan moves forward — with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as the lead architects — the costs remain an issue. Phase I is a $267 million project that simply improves access to the current Penn Station by constructing more entrances and widening a few platforms. Phase II, which will turn the Farley Building into a rail hall, will cost between $1-$1.5 billion and has not yet received any funding commitments. Baby steps are better than no progress at all, but I’m not too optimistic that the Moynihan Station plan as it currently exists will see the light of day anytime soon.

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A federal TIGER grant approved today ensures that at least the first phase of the Moynihan Station proposal will see the light of day. (Rendering via Friends of Moynihan Station)

After years of proposals, politicking and promises, Moynihan Station is finally poised to become something of a reality. Earlier today, Sen. Chuck Schumer, long a champion of the Penn Station expansion project, announced an $83 million TIGER grant for the station, and the money closes the Phase I budget gap. Construction will commence before the end of 2010.

As Elana Schor at Streetsblog DC details, the grant is part of the Obama Administration’s competitive $1.5 billion Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program, and New York’s plan is the first bid winner. This award is a clean sign of the federal Department of Transportation’s move toward a more merit-based funding solution. “Moynihan Station is the poster child for the best way to use federal funding,” Schumer said. “It creates jobs, upgrades aging transportation infrastructure, and leaves behind an economic engine for the entire region.”

With this $83.3 million grant in place, the Moynihan Station now has a guaranteed $267 million set aside for it. The breakdown, per a press release is as follows: $110 million in previously earmarked federal funding, $35 million from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, $14 million from the State of New York, and $10 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

So what then does $267 million buy at the planned site of a new transportation hub? Unfortunately, not very much. Per Friends of Moynhian Station, the money will go toward:

  • Building two new entrances to Penn Station’s platforms from West of Eighth Avenue through the corners of the Farley Building;
  • Doubling the length and width of the West End Concourse;
  • Providing 13 new “vertical access points” (escalators, elevators and stairs) to the platforms;
  • Doubling the width of the 33rd Street Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse and;
  • Other critical infrastructure improvements including platform ventilation and catenary work.

Phase II, construction of the train hall in the Farley Building, will be independently funded and is currently estimated to cost between $1 and $1.5 billion. The Friends of Moynihan Station stress that all Phase I elements will be independently functional in the very likely event that Phase II doesn’t get off the ground any time soon.

Still, long-term advocates of the station were thrilled with today’s developments. “We’re very pleased this critical project is finally getting underway, after years of delay,” Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, said. “There is no more important project for creating needed transportation capacity in the regional rail system and for catalyzing the redevelopment of New York’s Far West Side.”

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Yesterday, I examined how the ball is rolling again for Moynihan Station, and late in the day, Eliot Brown from The Observer emailed me a link to a piece he had written about the federal involvement in the project. Brown writes that to get funding for the new station, the supporters are going to be relying heavily on the Obama Administration’s transportation investment plans. Gov. Paterson may ask for $398 million in stimulus funding, and the state hopes that President Obama’s high-speed rail imitative will send some money to Moynihan as well. Brown also explores how the project is closer to a reality now that its supporters have broken it into bite-sized pieces and are no longer pushing a massive overhaul of the Madison Square Garden area. [The Observer]

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Moynihan Station building steam

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Amtrak may one day be operating out of the Farley Post Office. (Photo courtesy of Friends of Moynihan Station)

Every few months, Senator Chuck Schumer’s desires to get Moynihan Station off the drawing board and onto 8th Ave. rear its head. Over the last week, twin news stories have pushed this new depot — a much-needed replacement for Penn Station — onto the news pages and into the minds of transit advocates.

The more recent story focuses on Amtrak. For years, Moynihan Station had been held up and generally left for dead because the rail giant had not signed onto the project. This week, though, Amtrak agreed to move its operations to Moynihan Station. According to Schumer’s office, Amtrak agreed to the deal after being promised more revenue from retail shops and a few design changes.

With Amtrak on board, the biggest hurdle to the project now seemingly becomes money. The project is estimated to cost up to $1.5 billion, and while the Feds have guaranteed at least $200 million, that still leaves a sizable gap. According to the Daily News, Mayor Bloomberg was “noncommittal” about the city’s involvement in the project. He would rather pay to extend the 7 nowhere than help build a much-needed railhub in Midtown.

In other Moynihan-related news, Metro-North announced a new study of Metro-North access to Penn Station. The agency became an environmental review nearly ten years ago and had reduced its initial proposal to four alternatives: two for the Hudson Line and two for the New Haven line. No matter the final choice, these routes were projected to provide service at all times and include stations on the far west side of Manhattan that aren’t served by regional rail.

Now, after consulting with the FTA, Metro-North will proceed with a study of full service for both the Hudson and New Haven lines. Hudson Line service would run into Penn Station via the current Amtrak Empire Connection with two new stations — one near W. 125th St. and one on the Upper West Side. In March, I noted that the W. 60th area seemed a likely spot for a Metro-North stop. The New Haven line will run to Penn Station via the Hell Gate Line, and it will stop at three stations in the east Bronx — one at Co-Op City, one at Parkchester and one near Hunts Point.

The final environmental assessment will be completed in 2011, and it will incorporate information about the long-range plans for Penn Station. That is, of course, where Moynihan Station comes in. It will behoove Amtrak, the city and state to finalize Moynihan Plans so that Metro-North can proceed with their expansion plans. One day, we may yet have more Metro-North options on the west side and a fancy train station in midtown. Slowly, New York will earn a station better equipped for rail travel than the current Penn Station.

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