State of the State

NY state budget declares Penn Station area an “unreasonable” public risk, and other shakeups

Development East News Urbanism
NY state budget declares Penn Station area an
NY state budget declares Penn Station area an "unreasonable" public risk, and other shakeups. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo presenting highlights of the 2018-19 budget after signing. (governorandrewcuomo/Flickr)

After a tumultuous series of negotiations over New York State’s 2018-19 budget that came down to the wire, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on a finalized $168 billion bill late last Friday. While a congestion pricing plan and the removal of density caps for NYC residential developments failed to pass, sweeping changes that could preclude a state seizure of the Penn Station area have made it through.

The finalized budget provides a bevy of changes and funding initiatives that will affect New York-based architects and planners. In a move to stabilize city’s deteriorating subway system, $836 million was authorized for the MTA’s Subway Action Plan–with the requirement that the city government would have to foot half of the bill. As AN has previously reported, the money would go towards stabilizing the subway system by beefing up track work, replacing 1,300 troublesome signals, tracking leaks, and initiating a public awareness campaign to reduce littering. At the time of writing, the de Blasio administration which has repeatedly claimed that the city already pays more than its fair share, has agreed to contribute their $418 million portion.

Congestion pricing, proposed by Governor Cuomo’s own transportation panel, failed to make it into the final legislation. The plan would both reduce traffic on Manhattan’s streets and could potentially raise up to $1.5 billion for subway repairs, but couldn’t muster enough support to pass. Instead, a surcharge on for-hire cars will be enacted below 96th Street in Manhattan; $2.75 for for-hire cars, $2.50 for yellow cabs, and $0.75 for every pooled trip.

The terminally underfunded New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) will also be getting a boost, as Cuomo has pledged $250 million for repairs across the agency’s housing stock. However, the boost is somewhat undercut by the federal government’s recent decision to restrict NYCHA’s access to federal funds as a result of the lead paint scandal rattling the agency. To save time and money, the budget has implemented design-build practices–where the designer and contractor operate as one streamlined team–for future NYCHA projects, the forthcoming Rikers Island transformation, and the delayed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway restoration.

While one controversial plan to remove Floor Area Ratio caps in future New York City residential developments didn’t make it into the final draft, another even more contentious proposal did. According to language in the final budget, the area around Penn Station has been deemed an “unreasonable risk to the public”. This formal declaration could be used in future negotiations between the state and Madison Square Garden as leverage, or even as a pretext for eventually seizing the area via eminent domain.

The budget, which the New York Times described as a broadside against Mayor de Blasio, ultimately exerts greater state intervention across a swath of local issues, from education to urban planning. More information on the final 2018-19 budget can be found here.

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