When last we checked in with the MTA’s off-again, on-again plans to send Metro-North into Penn Station, it was under some disappointing circumstances. Short-sighted and territorial Long Island politicians had begun to protest Metro-North service into Penn Station (and, similarly, diverting some LIRR service into Grand Central) because it would rob constituents of their regular commutes. Their logic was tough to follow, and with East Side Access slowly on the way, completely inexplicable. Still, it was a disappointing development as the city tries to diversify transit options.
Still, the MTA is not deterred by this strange opposition. After performing the scoping studies in 1999 and 2000, the MTA has revived the Penn Station Access plan and is currently conducting environmental analysis studies that will be ready in 2013. Earlier this week, Authority officials were on hand to discuss their plans with the City Council, and Dana Rubinstein offered up a very thorough report from the hearing. She wrote of the far-off future:
After the completion of the East Side Access project, now due sometime in 2019, Long Island Railroad passengers will be able to disembark in Grand Central Terminal, rather than just Penn Station, which means there should be more space available on the west side for other railroad purposes.
One proposal that’s being considered is to run two new Metro-North trains out of Penn Station. One line would run north from Penn Station along the Amtrak line to Albany, connecting with the Hudson line in Spuyten Duyvil. The other line, which addresses that East Bronx issue, would run east from Penn Station along the Amtrak route to Boston, looping south of Grand Central, into western Queens and then north through the East Side of the Bronx, connecting with the New Haven line somewhere south of New Rochelle…
The proposal would not involve laying new track or building new rights-of-way, since the M.T.A. would presumably be able to use Amtrak’s. But it would involve the construction of six new stations, four in the east Bronx—near Co-op City, Morris Park-Bronx Medical Center, Parkchester and Hunts Point—and two on Manhattan’s west side, one at 125th Street, and the other possibly somewhere between West 54th and 57th streets and 10th and 11th avenues.
The MTA’s own study documents from nearly 15 years ago contain the outlines of the plans, and the authority will be updated these studies over the next few months. The key element, though, appears to be cost. For the four stops planned in the Bronx — Co-Op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point — the track already exists. The MTA would have to find funds to build only the stations.
According to City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, such a build could cost as little as $400 million — or $100 million per station. The MTA though hasn’t put a price tag on the project yet as it’s still in the planning stages. Still, advocates see this as a potentially affordable project for an agency that cannot control costs on its big-ticket investments. “I will say that it’s not a big capital investment item for the type of service that you’re talking about,” Chris Jones of the RPA said. “You’re not talking about billions of dollars for this.”
And so with vague indications of what the next capital campaign will contain, the MTA is moving forward on a project that can come online in tandem with East Side Access in 2019. It could improve access in the Bronx to both the East and West Sides and won’t come with sticker shock. Right now, it seems like a win-win. Will Long Island still object though?