Governor Cuomo: No Scandal Here, Just a Brand-New Penn Station


Last week was a very bad week to be Governor Andrew Cuomo. He watched as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara arrested his best friend and former top aide Joseph Percoco on brazen corruption charges, and saw Attorney General Eric Schneiderman throw even more charges at Cuomo’s nanotechnology guru, SUNY-Polytechnic president Alain Kaloyeros.

Where others might lay low, or allow the presidential debates to continue to overshadow a devastating turn of events, Cuomo decided it was time to announce something big. Something huge. Something that could make New Yorkers proud. It was time to announce another new Penn Station, a plan even newer than the last new plan (which was only eight months old).

At a luncheon this afternoon at the Association for a Better New York in Manhattan, Cuomo continued his newfound interest in regional transit, which has played out like a great, long-winded, and almost completely improvised attempt to solve all that ails New York City infrastructure without actually changing anything about it. Penn Station, the great labyrinth of NYC, where transit dreams come to die (Cuomo referred to it as a “catacombs”), would be reborn inside the Farley Post Office, across Eighth Avenue. Amtrak, which owns the tracks underneath the building and has been building its own new concourse inside it for years, will now share the space with the Long Island Rail Road, relieving a huge amount of congestion inside the existing Penn Station. The rest of the post office would then be converted into 112,000 square feet of retail space, which, when complete, would offer more retail than all of Grand Central.

Funny how NYC transit infrastructure keeps becoming retail, right?

Anyway, over on the other side of Eighth Avenue, where there would still be entries to many of the LIRR tracks, as well as the seventh and eighth avenue subway lines, Cuomo announced a widening of the cramped concourse complete with a ceiling made out of LEDs to simulate the open sky (or, more likely, advertisements). Both subway stations, for the A/C/E and the 1/2/3 would be completely redone as well. The total cost of the Farley and Penn Station rebuild will be $1.5 billion, an amount which Cuomo announced had already been accounted for by Amtrak, the state, the Feds, and the developer, and it will be ready for the public by 2020.

“New York’s tomorrow depends on what we do today, and the new Moynihan Train Hall will be a world-class twenty-first century transportation hub,” Cuomo said. “With more than twice the passengers of all JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports combined, the current Penn Station is overcrowded, decrepit, and claustrophobic. The Moynihan Train Hall will have more space than Grand Central’s main concourse, housing both Amtrak and LIRR ticketing and waiting areas, along with state-of-the-art security features, a modern, digital passenger experience, and a host of dining and retail options. This is not a plan — this is what’s going to happen. People are going to walk through this station and recognize that this is New York.”

Excited from the announcement of this huge new mall (featuring some transit improvements), Cuomo launched into a thirty-minute explanation of his regional transit fever-dreams, which include the following:

  • The much-maligned LaGuardia AirTrain that would run from Willets Point
  • An investment in regional airports in Long Island
  • A third track for the Long Island Rail Road
  • Passing mentions of the Gateway Tunnel, currently being developed to replace the decrepit cross-Hudson tunnels
  • A new Tappan Zee bridge with murky funding commitments
  • The ongoing rebuilding of LaGuardia Airport; he even floated the idea of the city selling Rikers to the Port Authority for more runway space.

Perhaps most troubling for New York City residents would be Cuomo’s enthusiasm for the new Metro-North stations in the eastern Bronx, set to open sometime in the 2020s. Cuomo stressed that the area was “going to explode with development,” something that will almost certainly mean massive displacement for the communities that currently live there.

Multiple times during the presentation, Cuomo reiterated his belief that the government is not good at building things. But blinded by the righteous fire of being a governor who does build things, Cuomo ended with a long, strange soliloquy on the very nature of what it means to be New York, and to be a governor who builds things.

“I was speaking with a great New Yorker earlier today, and they asked me ‘Will you actually be able to do these things?’ The cynicism was shocking to me,” the governor told the audience.

“We believe that’s now the norm. That is not the norm. That is not the norm. That’s why you have to go back and remember who we are and what made New York, New York. New York is not about the timid and it’s not about the slow and it’s not about the weak, and it’s not about the incompetent. We have the exact opposite. We were the bold, the energetic, the outrageous. Everything was confident, of course we can do it.”