By: David Porter
A new plan to redo New York’s aging and much-maligned Penn Station will be less expansive than earlier visions but will still transform North America’s busiest rail hub from a commuting hellscape into a transformative experience for travelers, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday as she announced the project.
“This day has been a long time coming,” the Democrat said. “We have the opportunity here to reimagine the whole future of Penn Station and the entire neighborhood.”
The current 53-year-old Penn Station sits underneath the Madison Square Garden arena and is reviled by commuters for its low, dingy corridors, lack of windows, and overall unsightliness.
During pre-pandemic times, it served roughly 600,000 passengers per day on regional rail lines from New Jersey and Long Island, Amtrak and the New York subway system. Projections put that number at more than 800,000 in coming decades, Hochul said.
The new plan, which Hochul estimated would cost $6 billion to $7 billion and take four or five years to complete, is a scaled-down version of earlier plans announced by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, that had included demolishing part of the surrounding neighborhood to expand the terminal and add new buildings.
The current plan would still create new residential and office space around the station that is expected to produce revenue to pay for New York’s share of the cost.
But it stops short of the more ambitious expansion Cuomo envisioned to add more tracks in anticipation of new rail tunnels being built under the Hudson River from New Jersey, part of the broader Gateway project, which will take several years to complete.
That expansion will come later, Hochul and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said.
“This is a window of opportunity,” Lieber said. “Track expansion is coming. There’s no reason we can’t, in the meantime, change the Penn Station experience for the better.”
Hochul didn’t offer a target date for when construction might begin. While the Gateway project and the Penn Station expansion are primarily for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit riders, she said, New Yorkers make up 60% of travelers using the station.
“Given that they’re the ones using it, I believe they deserve a transformative experience, as well,” she said. “It’s time to put New Yorkers first.”
Hochul even suggested renaming the station, which was originally built in the early 1900s by the Pennsylvania Railroad before being torn down in the 1960s, after a notable New Yorker and not “another state.”
The plan calls for a large, single-level train hall with higher ceilings and a 450-foot-long skylight; more escalators, stairs and elevators to platforms, and more street entrances to reduce sidewalk crowding.
Eight acres of outdoor public space, made possible by moving truck-loading functions inside Madison Square Garden, is planned, along with a pedestrian concourse between the station and the Herald Square subway station one block to the east.
While Hochul didn’t offer specifics on funding, she indicated an option would be to follow the model being used for the Hudson River tunnels, in which New Jersey and New York are expected to split 50% of the cost, with the federal government covering the other 50%.