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$1 Billion Life Line
Cuomo declares state of emergency for New York's subway system
The cheek of it. Governor Andrew Cuomo waltzes into a press conference and announces he is going to save the subway. After years of denying the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) the funds to upgrade the subway, Cuomo on Thursday declared that the system was in a state of emergency and pledged $1 billion to fix the issue. But a knight in shining armor he is not. New Yorkers know how overdue this is, and so does he.
According to the New York Times, Cuomo fled the scene immediately, revealing no details as to where that money would come from. The New York State Governor will also reportedly sign an executive order to usher in repair work and new gear to bring the subway up to speed.
The announcement comes after an A Train derailed earlier this week, leaving 17 hospitalized and others with minor injuries. Other subway horror stories abound. This is the culmination of a beleaguered 112-year-old system that has been crying out for help for decades since its popularity boomed in the early 1990s. As more and more use the system, the worse it gets. In 2007, 94 percent of 1 Trains were on time. Fast forward ten years and that performance meter has dropped to 70 percent. That's better than the rest of the subway's lines which, on average, are punctual 59 percent of the time. The problem is overcrowding (which accounts for more than a third of delays today) and, of course, this means more delayed passengers angrily tweeting venting their frustration—so the more we hear about it. (The Architect's Newspaper recently spotted this poster at the 49th Street N/Q/R/W subway stop.) Signals, way outdated and faulty beyond belief, are also the source of other delays, as are faulty tracks and switches.
Though ironically delayed, Cuomo's rhetoric will be welcomed by subway riders more accustomed to hearing about train traffic ahead of them. “We need new ideas, delivered faster," the governor told reporters and entrepreneurs who attended the speech. “It will no longer be a tortured exercise to do business with the MTA,” Cuomo continued, announcing an ideas competition to improve the subway.
Put in place to oversee to all this is the new chairman of the MTA, Joseph J. Lhota. "The governor has made it clear he wants a new MTA, a new approach," he said. “We know what we need to do. He mentioned the subway’s aging signal system. We live in a digital age. Our signal system isn’t even analog. It’s mechanical.”
Lhota now has 30 days to change the turn the MTA into an agency that "performs a function." In addition to this, Lhota, who only heard about the $1 billion pledge at the conference himself, must review the MTA's capital plan within 60 days. Though deriding the subway system as it is, Lhota is optimistic. "I know what the subway system was, and it can be the crown jewel of New York,” he said. “No idea is too crazy. No idea is too ambitious.”
Go East, Angelino!
L.A. pushes ahead with $1.4 billion light rail extension despite lack of full funding
The James A. Farley Building on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue will be given a $1.6 billion overhaul as it is repurposed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) from being a former post office to a rail hub.
Governor Cuomo announced the plans last Friday, but he had originally floated the idea back in September. The Farley Building sits to the west of Penn Station and under Cuomo's scheme, it will go from once holding letters to instead accommodating 700,000 square feet of retail, commercial, and dining areas with the Moynihan Hall serving as a train hall for Amtrak and LIRR services.
"Fifty years after the loss of the original Penn Station structure, passengers will once again experience a world-class rail hub worthy of New York," Cuomo said in a press release. "The Farley Building’s Moynihan Train Hall is two decades in the making, and we are proud that this project is finally a reality. With better access to trains and subways and state-of-the-art infrastructure, the Moynihan Train Hall seamlessly joins history, architectural design, and function, bringing the nation’s busiest rail station into the 21st century."
McKim, Mead and White designed both the Farley Building and the original Penn Station. The latter was lost in 1963 but now the New York architecture firm's work will once again be used for the station, serving as a grand entrance. Inside Moynihan Hall, where nine platforms and 17 tracks will be accessible, a 92-foot high skylight will be built above the hall's iconic steel trusses. The hall will also facilitate access to the Eighth Avenue Subway as well as provide an entrance to the station from 9th Avenue.
In addition to the work being done at Moynihan Hall, the width of the 33rd Street Corridor will be almost tripled as part of a "comprehensive redesign" of the LIRR concourse. Cuomo's office also stated plans for "extensive renovation" to the adjacent Seventh and Eighth Avenue subway stations. Furthermore, additional changes to Penn Station include upgraded lighting and signage, new digital screens, and adding LED panels that projecting blue skies.
According to Crain's New York, Cuomo's plans will only aid around a fifth of Penn Station's 600,000 daily commuters. The work is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2020. That, however, might not be soon enough for those in line for what Cuomo has described as an upcoming "summer of hell" with track shutdowns for repairs set to cause commuter despair. "You'll see… breakdowns for the foreseeable future," said Cuomo. "We need major renovations at Penn and… an organization that can actually do them."
"We would be crazy to do something without Vornado," Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, who was named Cuomo's committee for the Penn Station project, told Crain's. "They have shown themselves willing to put skin in the game, and they see what's good for the public is also good for them. An improved station boosts the value of so much of Vornado's real estate."
The plan is being carried out and financed by Empire State Development and Related Companies, Vornado Realty LP, and construction firm Skanska's U.S. arm. Divided up, $550 million will be state supplied and $420 million will come from Amtrak, the MTA, the Port Authority and federal grants. The remaining $630 will be provided by Vornado and Skanska who in return for building it will have the right to run the new commercial concourse.