Plan for new N.Y. Penn Station would allow for more trains from N.J.

Posted Feb 22, 2021

A grand plan to build an annex south of New York’s Penn Station to create more track and platform space for NJ Transit commuters could be reality by 2028, draft plans said. But it will come at the price of building skyscrapers, some up to 400 feet high, in the neighborhood surrounding the station.

The draft plans for redeveloping the much-maligned subterranean station, building an addition to it and redeveloping the midtown Manhattan neighborhood around it were announced by the Empire State Development Corporation and Gov. Andrew Cuomo Friday.

A proposed addition south of Penn Station would have nine additional tracks and five new platforms to accommodate NJ Transit trains, and be in operation in 2028, the same time it predicts new Gateway Hudson River tunnels would be completed, the report said.

But some experts reiterated their original criticisms that the addition would park NJ Transit trains in a dead end station that’s not as flexible as the current Penn Station track layout.

“The Empire Station complex is not the type of transformation the area and region needs,” said Samuel Turvey, Chairperson of ReThinkNYC, a non-profit planning group. “Empire Station will upend zoning regulations, tear down a large swatch of the neighborhood and surround Penn Station with ‘supertalls’ (buildings), while leaving the area’s most pressing problem, Penn Station itself, under Madison Square Garden.”

Both the Penn Station expansion and tunnels would open up the possibility for more direct NJ Transit rail service to New York on lines that currently don’t go there. Raritan Valley Line riders have lobbied for 20 years for a one-seat ride to New York. The expansion would allow all RVL trains to go directly to New York. Now, rush hour trains terminate in Newark Penn Station.

Several NJ Transit Bergen County lines that now start and end in Hoboken would get similar access with construction of the “Bergen Loop,” a track connecting those lines to the Northeast Corridor line. The Loop is a later part of the larger Gateway Project that would build the tunnels and allied track work.

The Penn Station expansion provides extra track and platform space for those lines and frees up space on the other 21 tracks for Long Island Rail Road, Metro North and Amtrak trains.

This plan also detailed how Empire Station and the Penn Station expansion would be financed, through massive redevelopment of the blocks around Penn Station.

Redevelopment would “catalyze high-density, transit-oriented redevelopment on eight sites, resulting in a modern, mixed-use district with approximately 20 million gross square feet of Class A commercial office, retail, hotel and potentially residential space in ten buildings,” Cuomo’s office said in a release. “It would roughly double the amount of gross square footage currently permitted across the eight sites.”

An online public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement will be held on March 24.

The proposed buildings “will generate essential revenue for substantial improvements at Penn Station and other transit facilities in the project area.

An addition called Penn South was originally proposed by Amtrak to build an underground annex south of Penn Station. In 2014, Amtrack said it would have to acquire 35 properties at a cost of close to half a billion dollars based on tax assessment data.

Cuomo came out with his broader 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.

Real estate experts also questioned if the market could support more retail development in the station to fund that plan in 2016. Then the coronavirus emptied offices and caused retail spaces in Penn to close when non-essential travel restrictions were enacted in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s unclear when demand for commercial office space in Midtown will return. It is likely premature until we better assess the post COVID world,” Turvey said. “Under any scenario, it would be better to broaden the value recapture strategies beyond “supertalls” lacing Penn Station.”

He suggested a concept for a “more sensitive and broader development plan for the neighborhood, combining the best of old and new.”

“Relying too heavily on new development to fund the Penn Station expansion is not only super disruptive to the neighborhood, it’s also financially risky,” he said.

Cuomo returned in January 2020 with a plan that included Penn South, which he boasted would free up space on the other 21 tracks for Long Island Rail Road, Metro North and Amtrak trains.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-02-23 02:31:21 -0800