When Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his plan to fancy up Penn Station without a similar commitment to increasing trans-Hudson rail capacity, the idea seemed to land as if dropped there by a tornado. The newly-christened Empire Station Complex took the old idea for Moynihan Station and rebranded it to look like a cross between a supersized Apple Store and a modern European rail station. At the time, Cuomo vowed to construct the thing for a few billion dollars and promised to release an RFP for the project before the week was out.
Well, that week ended; another began and ended; and now another is two days away from ending. The RFP is no closer to seeing the light of day. Dana Rubinstein spotted the delay for a Politico New York story, but she couldn’t pinpoint the source. Neither Empire State Development nor Amtrak could offer an explanation, but I’ve heard it’s a simple answer. Despite promises to release an RFP in short order, Cuomo’s team simply didn’t have one ready, and it takes longer than three or four days to prepare an RFP of the scope and magnitude dictated by a $3 billion plan to overhaul Penn Station. His team is now working on putting together the joint solicitation RFP/RFEI, but that won’t appear overnight.
It’s fitting in a way that this delay has come about as it seems to indicate Cuomo’s lack of overarching policy leadership. He can criss-cross the state, promoting grand ideas, but if the grand ideas seemed to come out of nowhere, that’s because they did. The officials in charge of the nuts and bolts didn’t have an RFP ready on time because they likely didn’t know they were going to need to have an RFP ready. Press conferences are easy; governing is harder.
Luckily, some agencies that aren’t New York state are doing a better job of focusing on delivering the needed transportation improvements, and in today’s Times, Emma Fitzsimmons checks in on the progress on the Gateway Tunnel. He reporting offers up more detail on the initiative than we’ve had in some time. To whit:
In a presentation to [U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony] Foxx, Amtrak officials said the entire project could cost as much as $23.9 billion, with the largest share of about $7.7 billion going toward building the new Hudson tunnel and repairing the existing tunnel. The project includes a host of other elements, including expanding Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan at an estimated cost of $5.9 billion, and replacing rail bridges in New Jersey…
After Mr. Foxx toured the tunnel on Wednesday, he said he would continue to advance the plans during the final year of the Obama administration. “I’d like to have a financing package that is solid enough by the time we walk out of the door that everyone has the certainty that the project will happen, and the funding set aside to get it done,” he said…
Amtrak officials have been reluctant to provide specific figures for the cost of the project while they are still in the early stages of planning. On Wednesday, they cautioned that the numbers were preliminary estimates, and the real costs would be determined after conducting engineering work and an environmental plan and considering available financing. The expansion of Penn Station, by adding tracks to the south, could start in 2024 and be completed by 2030, according to the presentation. Work to replace the Portal Bridge in New Jersey, an old swing bridge that often causes delays, could start next year. There was no timeline provided for the Hudson tunnel project, but Amtrak officials have said that work could take about a decade.
As Fitzsimmons also noted, Amtrak officials have finally stated as well that the current tunnels are “structurally safe, but that service was becoming less reliable” due to the flooding during Superstorm Sandy. How much longer Amtrak can go before it absolutely must make repairs remains to be seen.
What we know is that New York, New Jersey and the feds have agreed to somehow split the costs for this massive project; we know it wasn’t included in Cuomo’s $100 billion State of the State infrastructure spending spree; we know Foxx is likely to be replaced in 12 months; and we know Gateway, with the expansion of Penn Station — a separate expansion from that proposed by Cuomo — will be expensive. This is the important work and not that fancy rendering I’ve slapped on top of this post. I hope Cuomo is paying attention, and I hope he’s more prepared for this heavy lifting than he was with the RFP for his pet project that’s still being drafted.