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Gov. Hochul Announces New Development Plan for Penn Station

The multibillion-dollar plan would scale back the version previously proposed by disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, reducing the size and density of surrounding development. The updated station would also receive a new name.

(TNS) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul feels your pain, commuters. She knows that the dank, subterranean maze of Penn Station is depressing and even confessed to getting lost and losing a daughter (temporarily) to the station’s disorienting maze of levels and stairways.

That would end under a $6 billion to $7 billion plan she announced Wednesday to rebuild it as a “World Class” station with a 150 foot skylight and a public space as big as the concourses in Grand Central Terminal and the new Moynihan Train Hall across Eighth Avenue.

The plan scales back former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s February plan that would have built 10 midtown skyscrapers to help finance it. Hochul’s plan reduces the size and density of the surrounding development. The skyscrapers are reduced in size by 1.4 million square feet, and the building heights are lowered in the new version.

It would also eliminate the low ceiling, claustrophobic feel of the existing station by creating a “huge open space the size of Moynihan Train Hall and Grand Central Terminal with a 150-foot skylight on the east side” of the station, and double the height of the ceiling on the west side, Hochul said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Parting from earlier plans, it would remove a floor to transform it to a “single level train hub with natural light,” add 18 more escalators and stairways and 11 more elevators to and from track level, she said.

The new plan does put off building a nine-track annex that would have been used by NJ Transit. But, it also contains some helpful features for Jersey commuters, including new underground passageways between Herald Square and the 33rd Street PATH station and Penn, as well as direct entrances to new buildings to keep commuters off now busy and crowded sidewalks, she said.

A spokesman for Gov. Phil Murphy offered no comment on the redevelopment plan, however Hochul said she has talked to Murphy about the proposal.

“I spoke to the governor of New Jersey, he and I will work out the details…40 percent of the people who come through here are his constituents and deserve a better experience,” she said. “It is not us against New Jersey or Amtrak..we can get it done so everyone wins.”

The new plan doesn’t rely heavily on building in-station retail stores to support it.

“Some said if we keep the second floor we can have shops. That’s a disconnect,” Hochul said. “People are not coming to the train station to do their shopping.”

Finally it could get a new name that doesn’t reflect another state or the name of the railroad that previously owned it.

“I believe it should be named for a New Yorker or something iconic,” Hochul said. “There will come a time people say they never heard of Penn Station.”

Unlike past plans, Hocul said she wants Penn Station’s improvement and rehabilitation to happen while construction is underway of the Gateway Hudson River rail tunnels that would deliver more riders to the station.

Acting MTA chairman and CEO John “Janno” Lieber said there’s a window of opportunity to start the Penn Station redevelopment now. Amtrak operations moved across Eighth Avenue to Moynihan Train hall, and 40 percent to 50 percent of Long Island Railroad passengers are expected to move to Grand Central when the East Side Access station and tunnel project opens there in a year.

“We are already on a fast track. We need partnerships and will work with community every step of way„” Hochul said, estimating a 4-year to 5-year construction period. “There is a meeting on Dec. 8 to consider and take public comments.”

Community groups opposed the Cuomo plan for being too large. But that doesn’t mean some demolition won’t be needed for the new plan, she said.

The redeveloped Penn Station would allow the station to serve the 600,000 daily users and prepare it for up to 890,000 passengers predicted by 2038 when the Gateway project’s new Hudson River rail tunnels are completed.

“It ( Penn Station) is a daily humiliation for Amtrak, Long Island RailRoad, MTA and NJ Transit commuters who use it,” said Tom Wright, Regional Plan Association President and CEO. “Governor Hochul’s decision to move forward to renovate and expand Penn Station demonstrates her leadership and commitment to achieving a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Tri-State Transportation Campaign officials called Hochul’s plan a step in the right direction. But said it still leaves some problem on track level unaddressed.

“We commend Governor Hochul for advancing her vision of a user-friendly and welcoming Penn Station with better accessibility and improved circulation,” said Renae Reynolds, Tri-State Executive Director.

But the plan falls short of addressing the station’s core transportation issues, she said. They include narrow platforms and inefficient train operations, which “strangle Penn’s capacity, resulting in routine overcrowding and train delays,” she said.

Other advocates said a concept to through-run trains, by having them continue on instead of parking on tracks could up capacity and negate the need to build an annex south of the station.

“The Governor needs to get a thorough independent evaluation of through-running at Penn Station, which would obviate the need for expanding the station south and greatly improve the commuting experience at approximately half the cost,” said Sam Turvey, ReThinkNYC Chairperson.

In a 2017 plan, ReThinkNYC proposed building wider platforms in Penn Station and through running trains to solve train capacity and platform crowding, and ultimately having a regional mass transit system.

Cuomo came out with his earlier Empire Station plan in 2016 by redeveloping the subterranean Penn Station and giving it an above-ground structure. That plan was criticized for not dealing with track-level problems of more space for trains and easing platform congestion for passengers.

In February, Cuomo unveiled his latest and most controversial plan that called for allowing developers to build 10 skyscrapers, some up to 400 feet high, in the neighborhood surrounding the station to finance the cost.

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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