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Paterson Makes Bold Statement in Support of the Construction of Moynihan Station

Today Governor David Paterson made a bold statement in support of the construction of Moynihan Station when he announced conditions related to the future of Moynihan Station at New York Building Congress forum. He emphasized the critical importance for the project to emphasize infrastructure improvements and to that end announced that the Port Authority of New York would be taking over the project.

The Governor said that while New York City and State are in a difficult economic climate, fiscal responsibility is not just about reducing spending; it’s about making wise investments. Throughout New York State’s history, the government has moved ahead with infrastructure projects during times of financial insolvency. For example, the state was facing a deficit for seven of the ten years it took to construct the Erie Canal and the Lincoln Tunnel, George Washington Bridge and the Independent Subway System (IND) were all constructed during the Depression.

New York City was in the midst of a fiscal crisis during the construction of the historic Penn Station. “By any measure the 20th century was the New York Century. We entered it as a burgeoning metropolis and we left it as the greatest and most powerful city in the world. We can make the 21st century the New York Century as well, but only if we invest wisely in our infrastructure.”

Paterson said the Federal government must put together a plan for the nation’s infrastructure so we may reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and avoid catastrophic disasters like last year’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis. He also decried the Federal government's “starving” of Amtrak and reduction of slots at the city’s airports. The Governor said that we must bolster the rail options between Washington DC, Boston and other cities within 300 miles of New York City. Rail is the most fuel-efficient way to move people,, and it is critical that we lighten the loads of our airlines and on our highways. In the absence of a Federal transportation plan, Paterson said the State must develop its own plan.

“It is fitting that 100 years after the building of the first Penn Station, we assess our infrastructure priorities and establish clear conditions for the future of transportation in our State,” said Governor Paterson. “If we are to realize our full potential for growth in the 21st century, then we must look to increase our rail capacity. That is why today I have outlined the conditions that I believe must be met if we are to move forward with the Moynihan Station project. Moynihan must be more than a beautiful station; it must move more people more efficiently.”

The Governor’s specific conditions for Moynihan Station development include:

1. Ensuring that the Moynihan Station project increases transportation capacity by physically expanding the number of tracks and platforms and instituting operational changes by Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak.

Paterson announced that he was asking the leadership of the three railroads to report to himself and Governor Corzine on how they planned to work together.

2. Coordinating the development of Moynihan Station in tandem with other major development projects including New Jersey’s Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) which is the first crossing under the Hudson in 50 years;

The Governor made it clear that it would be a formidable challenge to ensure that the project will be coordinated with major infrastructure projects like ARC and unifying the three transit systems of Amtrak, Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit. “This is why we want the Port Authority to take over the leadership in terms of constructing Moynihan Station, and what we are really saying is that with such major development occurring, there has to be coordination,” the governor said.

3. Taking necessary steps to ensure that the project also helps to revitalize the surrounding community.

While the Governor acknowledged the importance of making Moynihan Station a Gateway to New York city and catalyst for development on the Far West Side, he said first and foremost this is a transportation project.

“Increasing our transportation capacity is an important step, but it is only a one step. We must ensure that we carefully coordinate the improved capacity with other major development and infrastructure projects, which is why today, I called on my Deputy Secretary for Economic Development, and Infrastructure to convene all of the project’s partners from both the public and private sectors to discuss the challenges they face,” Governor Paterson continued. “Deputy Secretary Gilchrist will report back to me with an assessment of these challenges and potential solutions.” “By any measure the 20th century was the New York Century. We entered it as a burgeoning metropolis and we left it as the greatest and most powerful city in the world. We can make the 21st century the New York Century as well, but only if we invest wisely in our infrastructure,” added Governor Paterson.

Read Governor Paterson's press release.
Read Paterson Invokes New Deal in Calling for Fresh Moynihan Plan by Eliot Brown in The New York Observer.
Read Paterson Gives Moynihan Another Shot by Matthew Schuerman of WNYC.
Read Paterson appoints aide to look into Moynihan by Theresa Agovino of Crain's New York.


Paterson Wants More Transportation Improvements at Moynihan Station

This morning Governor Patterson addressed the future of Moynihan Station, among other issues, at the Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum. Below is his response to the question "Will Major Infrastructure Projects – Like Moynihan Station - Be Completed In Your First Term"?

What is essential to Moynihan Station is that it be a viable transportation hub. That if it doesn’t include the transportation, its value diminishes considerably as far as I’m concerned,

We are still trying to get Amtrak and our local transit systems to agree on how we could reroute transit and turn this into what would really be, in a sense, a favorable investment of our resources.

I believe shortly Governor Corzine and I will probably go and meet with AMTRAK, because one of their plans, coincides with ours -- the ARC plan and we’d like to try to that get done.

Everyone understands that the economy is a problem but my project must go forward. I don’t see how they can all go forward. The resources aren’t there. The capital isn’t there. And everybody wants to come to the government to be part of the solution. And right now the government is floundering because we have these huge deficits that we have to ameliorate.

It sounds positive that Governors Paterson and Corzine are talking to Amtrak. Perhaps this means there's potential for the ARC/Penn Station connection. Let's hope they announce a plan to move forward soon.

Read "Paterson Argues for Spending Cuts" on Crain's site.

Read "Paterson Won’t Rule Out Tax Increases" by Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times.


ARC: Critical to Build, A Struggle to Fund

Eliot Brown wrote an interesting story about the importance to build, and the struggle to fund, ARC (Access to the Region’s Core). The proposed tunnel would be the first built under the Hudson River since Penn Station was built.

The tunnel would have clear transportation improvements:

Brown wrote that ARC is "the largest individual transportation project in the New York area by dollars, and would double the railroad’s capacity, allowing for 80,000 more riders daily, with a new river crossing and a fresh set of platforms by Pennsylvania Station."

But it's becoming more expensive:

A preliminary analysis by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) found the cost of the project was estimated to span from the $7.6 billion to more than $10 billion depending on a variety of potential roadblocks during planning and construction, according to a government official familiar with the analysis.

AMTRAK has apparently joined the advocates in arguing for a Penn Station connection:

The tracks would not connect to Penn Station tracks—a sore point for many transit advocates and Amtrak, which has criticized the plan for its lack of redundancy should something happen to one of the two tunnel systems. As the region and rail ridership grow, capacity could be better expanded with a connection between the two systems, those critics argue, though New Jersey Transit has said the connection costs would be prohibitive.

While Brown indicates that funding the project is challenging, it's of national importance to complete the tunnel:

“The project is probably the most important public transportation project in the country,” James Simpson, the F.T.A.’s administrator, told The Observer. “The benefits accruing to New Yorkers and folks in New Jersey are so great that the project has to happen.”

Read “Billions Down The Tunnel!,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer

Read ARC: 100 Years Later, An Attempt to Re-Conquer Gotham


MAS Video: The Struggle to Build Penn Station

On April 23, historian Jill Jonnes delivered a fascinating presentation on the construction of Penn Station and its tunnels, the subject of her recent book: Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic. The event was part of the MAS’s spring program series: Can New York Build Another Great Station?

With the aid of some amazing photographs rescued from the depths of the Pennsylvania Railroad archives, Jonnes recounted the “titanic battle with nature” that culminated in the construction of the original Penn Station.

Now you can watch a brief video of the highlights:

Learning From The Past: The Struggle to Build Penn Station from MAS on Vimeo

Join us on Wednesday, May 28 for our next event: "The Heart of the City: Grand Central Terminal & the Urban Railroad Station."

And check out our walking tour on May 31: "Finding Your Way: Penn Station vs. Grand Central."

Watch “Re-Discovering Rail,” a video from our April 9th panel

Read “Jill Jonnes Bucks Up the Moynihan Station Crowd”

Read “The Struggle to Build (New) Penn Station”

Read “ARC: 100 Years Later, An Attempt to Re-Conquer Gotham”


The Struggle to Build (New) Penn Station: Jill Jonnes at MAS on Wednesday

Conquering Gotham book cover

Conquering Gotham, Jill Jonnes’s entertaining history of the building of the original Penn Station and its tunnels, concludes: "All these decades later -- as our love affair with cars and airplanes has soured -- there is hope that New York can once again reclaim the grandeur of arriving by train in Gotham.”

Indeed, around one hundred years later New York is attempting to re-conquer Gotham with a new station (Moynihan Station) and set of tunnels (ARC). Whereas the original Penn Station project was driven forward by a single private company – the Pennsylvania Railroad, the current projects involve a multitude of public agencies and private interests.

Recently, the New York Times summarized the state of the city’s “grand development plans in an editorial entitled “Construction and Hard Times.” “Work is slowing, stalling or stopped altogether on too many of the projects we hoped would transform some of the bleakest sections of the city,” it said, crediting a faltering economy and a lack of leadership as the main causes.

In this environment, it is important to remember that the original Penn Station was a roughly twenty year project and a triumph over incalculable odds. Alexander Cassatt, president of the Penn RR, rejected the corruption of Tammany Hall, faced off against the city’s most powerful robber barons, remained unshaken by the persistent attacks of the Hearst media empire, and emerged - along with the sandhogs - to give New York “a monument worthy of his railroad and their city.”

On Wednesday evening, find comfort in the story of the construction of Penn Station and its tunnels. Jill Jonnes will appear at the MAS for a lecture and discussion about how the construction of the first Penn Station can inform the building of Moynihan Station, ARC, and other major civic projects. Here are the details:

Learning From The Past: The Struggle to Build Penn Station

Wednesday, April 23, 6:30–8:00 p.m., at the Municipal Art Society
Jill Jonnes, author of Conquering Gotham: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, wanted to write about “an American success, about a monumental project that everyone would be familiar with.” That she has done. As Gilbert Taylor wrote in a Book List review, “…New York City’s Pennsylvania Station was the visible manifestation of a titanic subterranean project. Its sweeping story…comes together marvelously in Jonnes’s admiring history of the undertaking.” Jonnes’s presentation will include compelling historic images not featured in her book, which closes with the hope that Moynihan Station will be “…a return to the grandeur of the past.

Presented in conjunction with the Municipal Art Society’s Urban Center Books. Signed copies will be available at the bookstore following the presentation.
$15, $12 MAS members. Reservations and prepayment required. Purchase tickets online or call 212 935 2075

Here are some links:

Listen to Jill Jonnes talk about Conquering Gotham on NPR

View an interactive graphic and listen to an audio explanation of the tunnel boring techniques 100 years vs. today from the New York Times.

Read “100 Years Later, An Attempt to Re-Conquer Gotham”


MAS Panel Recap: What if They Gave a Crisis...

Doors opening on a moving train? Train cars decoupling mid-trip? According to an article in today’s New York Times, New Jersey Transit is stretched so thin to keep up with record demand that many experts are wondering if it is cutting corners on maintenance.

That is pretty much the state of the nation’s transportation infrastructure according to two experts who spoke at the MAS last night in the first of our programs on Moynihan Station.

“We are in the midst of a transportation crisis in this country,” said Don Phillips, a journalist who has worked for the Washington Post and International Herald Tribune. “But we’re like the frog in the pan of water; we’re content to sit in the water as the heat is gradually turned up – and before we know it we’ll be boiled.”

Phillips provided a global overview of the transportation crisis and discussed how Europe, Asia, and even Mexico are placing massive investments in their infrastructure. France, for instance, is building rail tunnels “like crazy” for trains that, in some cases, will be carrying trucks. Iran is on a rail building boom. And Mexico is building a huge new port and rail network to compete with the Port of Los Angeles.

But “we have no vision at all,” said Phillips. “All we can say now is no new taxes.” He blamed the federal government for not spending a dime on passenger rail, but explained that some states and cities are getting around the problem to build small intercity networks. We have previously covered Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to draw attention to the infrastructure crisis through his new group, Building America's Future.

“People would rather ride a train than fly,” he said. “We are in a Golden Age for passenger rail with nothing to do about it.”

Walter Zullig, legal consultant and counsel emeritus, Metro-North Railroad, followed Phillips by pointing out that each commuter rail in the city, LIRR, Metro-North, and NJ Transit, is experiencing all time high numbers of daily riders. Amtrak continues to break records – even turning some people away – despite the fact it cannot afford any new equipment. “I don’t know how they do it,” he said.

Zullig then provided an overview of the major metropolitan region rail projects: LIRR East Side Access, Second Avenue Subway, 7 line extension, ARC, Tappan Zee Bridge, and Moynihan Station.

Zullig noted that regardless of “what happens upstairs” in the Moynihan Station there is an urgent need for track and platform improvements.

Regarding ARC, the trans-Hudson tunnel project and new station in Macy’s basement, Zullig said it would be “highly desirable” to bring the tunnels into Penn Station. Making the connection to Grand Central is “complicated building but could be done,” said Zullig. Many listeners learned a new term when one audience member accused New Jersey of lacking the “testicular capacity” to do just that.

Asked to identify the main obstacles to achieving a world-class train network in the New York region, Zullig echoed Phillips by identifying the negligence of the federal government. “They have abdicated their responsibility,” he said. “To say that states should take over the Northeast Corridor is ludicrous.”

If the transportation crisis is upon us what can we do about it?

“The biggest opportunity for rail is the environmental considerations, especially as energy prices continue to climb,” said Zullig. “Education about the benefits of rail – in terms of energy, air quality, quality of life – can go a long way. We need to create a ground swell of public demand. Then the politicians would be forced to listen.”

“It’s a matter of turning around the public attitude - and sometimes it takes a crisis,” said Zullig. He pointed to the example of Grand Central and described how the surrounding neighborhood was once a badly polluted and dangerous slum when the tracks were open to the air. But after a couple of really awful accidents occurred Penn Central stepped in and rebuilt the station. “Now look at it – they made a beautiful neighborhood out of what was a dump.”

Our next Moynihan Station event features Jill Jonnes, the author of Conquering Gotham. April 23rd at 6:30. Click here for more information.


ARC: 100 Years Later, An Attempt to Re-Conquer Gotham

One hundred years ago, during the early months of 1908, workers – known as “sand hogs” - blasted through the first rail tunnels under the Hudson River. As Jill Jonnes recounts in her recent book Conquering Gotham, the dreams of the Pennsylvania Railroad and its president, Alexander Cassatt, were finally fulfilled. No longer would Manhattan bound train riders have to disembark in New Jersey for a ferry ride across the Hudson.

By April 1908, “You could now enter a tunnel at Bergen Hill and, following it down under the North River, as the New York Times reported, ‘Walk from Hackensack Meadows to Long Island, but the Way is Stony and Wet.’ More than five miles of PRR railroad tunnels, starting in New Jersey and ending in Long Island were now bored completely through,” said Jonnes. At the same time, the old Penn Station was rapidly rising to become a temple to this amazing feat of engineering.

The PRR’s two-track tunnel has served the region well for the past century. But today there are more riders than ever. As a result, NJ Transit and Amtrak are facing a capacity crisis. The tunnel simply cannot handle any more train traffic during rush hour. Talk to anyone who takes NJ Transit to Penn Station and you are bound to hear horror stories about delays.

In response, NJ Transit, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the federal government have proposed the first trans-Hudson rail tunnel in one hundred years. The project is known as “ARC” for Access to the Region’s Core.

The $7.6 billion project will double train capacity into Penn Station by building a new two-track tunnel and a new train station under 34th Street. Currently, it is expected to begin construction in 2009 and to be completed in 2017.

Most everyone agrees that the region needs a new commuter rail tunnel, but there has been plenty of debate about its planning and design. Whereas the first trans-Hudson train tunnels arrived in the magnificent old Penn Station, the new ARC tunnel will terminate in a cavern 125 feet below Macy's. To connect to other trains at Penn Station riders will have to ascend over 100 feet and walk the equivalent of 2-3 blocks through a passageway.

Supporters of the current proposal include the Regional Plan Association, the New York Building Congress, and the New Jersey Alliance for Action. Opponents point out that the proposed station is not integrated with the platforms that will serve the future Moynihan Station - nor does it provide an opportunity to connect to Grand Central for access to the Midtown East commercial area.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is concerned about pedestrian overflow on the already overcrowded sidewalks around 34th St – which sounds to us like another reason to reopen underground passageways and consider Manhattan BP Scott Stringer’s proposal for a pedestrian thoroughfare on 33rd Street.

Transit advocates represented by the Regional Rail Working Group, including George Haikalis (of “Ask George” fame) and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, have voiced concerns about the deep cavern station under 34th St because of security concerns and the lack of direct connection to Penn Station. The station will be four times deeper than the existing Penn Station platforms. Instead, they believe the tunnel should come into existing tracks at Penn Station (see our recent post about the Grand Central/Penn Station connection for more info).

Meanwhile, the Architect’s Newspaper reports that New Jersey’s budget problems are holding up federal funding for the project. At a recent conference hosted by the New Jersey Alliance for Action, Governor Corzine said “co-equal investments with the federal government are vital.” He added, “If we cannot provide state matching dollars, we could lose the ARC tunnel.”

Timing is critical. Ridership is expected to double by 2015 and New Jersey officials, including Corzine, are concerned that Manhattan’s congestion pricing plan will place more stress on the trans-Hudson tunnel capacity crisis.

Resources for more information:

Visit the Access to the Region’s Core site

Listen to Jill Jonnes talk about Conquering Gotham on NPR’s All Things Considered

Read “Growing Pains; The Midtown Direct Line, a Victim of Its Own Success, Leaves Riders Grumbling About the Rush-Hour Madness,” from The New York Times

Read “Uniting Suburbs, One Rail Project at a Time,” by Ken Belson for The New York Times

Read “Port Authority Expected to Raise Tolls to Support 2nd Hudson Rail Tunnel,” by Ken Belson for The New York Times

[Images courtesy of Conquering Gotham and Access to the Region’s Core]


Ask George: "The Mother of All Train Station Connections"

Reader: “Is there a way to connect Grand Central to Penn Station? Have there been any plans to do so?”

Mr. Haikalis: Yes, in fact a plan was put forward in 2003. The original plans for the new train tunnel under the Hudson River - known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) – proposed bringing the new 2-track tunnel directly into existing tracks and platforms at Penn Station, and then continuing under 31st Street and Park Avenue to existing tracks and platforms on the Lower Level of Grand Central Terminal (see green tracks in figure below).

This plan – the mother of all train station connections - would have tied the two stations together, permitting thru train service between points in Westchester-Connecticut and points in New Jersey. The plan called for using existing tracks and platforms at the two stations, taking advantage of unique elements that were incorporated into their design when they were built nearly a century ago.

The Major Investment Study (MIS) phase of planning found that this plan – known as Alternative G - would have cost the least to build and operate, attracted the most riders, and diverted the greatest number of motorists of three final alternatives studied (click here to read the report). It would have afforded West of Hudson riders easy access to Manhattan's East Side, the nation's premier commercial district, and would have made it easier for workers from points north of NYC to reach growing West Midtown developments. Furthermore, it would have allowed Amtrak's Northeast Corridor trains to serve both business centers en route from Washington to Boston, making the train more competitive with air travel.

The MIS planning study found no "fatal flaws" in the connection. But a key to making this plan work is for NJ Transit trains to operate on Metro-North tracks and vice versa. These inter-operability agreements are quite common in the freight industry, and could be negotiated between the two transit carriers. It’s a matter of political will.

The leadership in both states declined to advance this very attractive plan. Instead, NJ Transit was left to "go it alone", pressing for a deep cavern dead-end station 140 feet below 34th Street and Macy’s. This plan is costly, inconvenient and poses a clear security risk. It obviously lacks the connection to Grand Central. In fact, it doesn’t even have a connection into Penn Station. The red line into Penn Station in the figure above has been dropped from the project! Now with both states facing severe budget challenges, it is especially important to move forward on a more cost-effective plan -- Alternative G.

More questions about ARC? Want to know more about Sunnyside Yards, connecting Metro North to Penn Station, or the possibilities of light rail in New York? Please submit questions in the comments section.