The lead-up to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address feels like a government-backed encore of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Instead of lords a-leaping and swans a-swimming, Cuomo brings infrastructure upgrades a-plenty in his 2016 Agenda. The governor promised funds to the Gateway and East Side Access tunnels, the Javits Center, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, the MTA (wi-fi a-comin'!), and an airport on Long Island. Arguably the biggest proposal is the Empire State Complex, a $3 billion redevelopment of New York City's Penn Station and its surroundings. The plan seeks to make Penn Station, which sits beneath Madison Square Garden, less of a hellhole—nice, even. Built to accommodate 200,000 daily riders, the station now serves 650,000 people per day. Channeling public sentiment, the governor ripped on Penn Station in his announcement. "Penn station is un-New York. It is dark, constrained, ugly, a lost opportunity, a bleak warren of corridors. [It's] a miserable experience and a terrible first impression." The governor's plan calls for enhancing connectivity between the station and the street; providing wi-fi; and reducing congestion by widening existing corridors, creating better wayfinding, and improving ticketing areas. As hinted at in previous proposals, the massive, neoclassical James A. Farley Post Office, at Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, could be converted into the "Moynihan Train Hall," a sun-drenched waiting area for Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and MTA passengers. A pedestrian tunnel underneath Eighth Avenue will connect the train hall with the main station. With this 210,000-square-foot addition, the size of the station will increase by 50 percent. The governor reviewed possible redesign scenarios. In one, Madison Square Garden Theater would be demolished to make way for a block-long entrance to Penn Station, facing the post office. In another, a glassy entrance, with skylights, would be constructed on 33rd Street. The street would be closed and converted into a pedestrian plaza. A third, more minimal scenario would add entrances at street corners and mid-block. In 2013, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) hosted a competition to rethink Penn Station. MAS highlighted designs four firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—for an improved Penn Station. In addition to improved passenger flow, each proposal imagined the station as a civic hub and neighborhood anchor. The governor said that this would phase of the project would be completed first. The rest of the overhaul could be complete by 2019, an amazing feat in a city where infrastructure improvements can drag on for decades. The Empire State Development Corporation, the MTA, Amtrak and the LIRR will parter with private developers to spearhead the project. $2 billion will go towards the Empire State Complex, while $1 billion will go towards "retail development" on 7th and 9th avenues. $325 million is expected to come from state and federal governments. The rest of the project will be privately funded, in exchange of revenue generated by commercial and retail rents. Cuomo will be issuing invitations to private developers, with an April 2016 due date. Currently, Vornado Realty Trust manages land around Penn Station, though it's unclear whether this relationship will continue.
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New York City's MTA has posted another collection of East Side Access construction photos to remind New Yorkers that its majorly delayed and hugely over budget project is still actually chugging along. When East Side Access is ultimately completed, at the cost of nearly $11 billion, it will connect Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central making life easier for about 80,000 commuters. But that's a long ways off—last we heard, the project will not be completed until 2023. As for where the project currently stands, the MTA explained in a statement, "Work continues on the Manhattan side of the East Side Access Project below Grand Central Terminal with waterproofing, rebar arch installation and drilling for couplers. In addition, temporary shoring for concrete slabs that will make up track and room levels can be seen." To see for yourself, take a look at the photos below which were captured by the MTA deep beneath city streets.
Day One: New Yorkers rejoice as their governor, Andrew Cuomo, announces his intent to bring AirTran service to LaGuardia Airport. Day Two: Well-respected transportation blog The Transport Politic digs into the $450 million plan and shreds apart some of its ambitious goals, namely the time savings it takes to get to the airport. Using the LaGuardia AirTran would actually be a less convenient way to get to the airport than the slow and unreliable options that currently exist. The plan, which is in its early stages, would mean building an AirTran station by Citi Field, between an existing Long Island Rail Road stations and a 7 line subway station; the elevated train would then connect to LaGuardia via the Grand Central Parkway. The Cuomo Administration says the distance traveled is 1.5 miles, but Transport Politics puts it closer to 2.3. Since the new rail line would travel alongside a highway, it would cause minimal disruptions for existing neighborhoods, making this whole thing a much easier pitch for Cuomo, at least politically and financially. Cuomo says the state has the money to pay for the plan through existing funds. But if the LaGuardia AirTran is built as currently proposed, it would actually mean a longer ride to the airport from many major population centers. Travelers heading to LaGuardia from Midtown, Downtown Brooklyn, Central, Queens, and the South Bronx would be better off taking one of the bad public transit options that already exist. The new AirTran would, of course, be faster for anyone living near Citi Field, and would shave a few minutes off the ride from Penn Station for those taking the Long Island Rail Road. This is not the first time that the city has looked into ways to make New York City’s closest airport not feel so far, far away. A 1990's plan, for example, would have extended the N subway line from Astoria, Queens right to LaGuardia. But as Transport Politic noted, the extension was squashed by neighborhood opposition because people apparently didn't want an elevated rail line cutting through their neighborhood. Check out Transport Politic's handy chart below that compares travel times of that 90's plan, Cuomo's plan, and an alternate plan for a connector from Jackson Heights, Queens.
If you’re not a fan of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, then LaGuardia Airport really has nothing to offer you. Besides travel-friendly food options like “jalapeño and cheese pretzel dogs" the aging, dirty, sometimes-leaking airport is by all accounts a disaster. Just ask Vice President Joe Biden who once said that if he blindfolded someone and took them to LaGuardia they would think they were in “some third world country.” The Vice President adding, "I'm not joking." A few months after the Veep made that non-joke, he appeared alongside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce design competitions to revamp LaGuardia and JFK, as well as the smaller Republic Airport on Long Island and Stewart Airport in the Hudson Valley. Those competitions will be launched in 30 days and last for 60 days; three finalists will be awarded $500,000. The New York Observer reported that the governor wants to see better retail and restaurant options at the airports (move over Auntie Anne's!), a Long Island Railroad link and ferry connection to LaGuardia, faster rail connections to JFK, and tax-free zones around Republic and Stewart airports. At LaGuardia, at least, the results could possibly look like the totally non-official rendering above. How would any of these changes be funded? That’s a question the governor did not address at the event. According to the Observer, "[Cuomo] did not tell reporters how the cash-strapped state, Port Authority or Metropolitan Transportation Authority would pay for these upgrades, but told reporters all options ‘were on the table,’ including new tolls on bridges.'” Cuomo later told the New York Times that designs had to be selected before financing could be secured, and he deflected criticism that his competition would get in the way of the Port Authority's multi-billion-dollar plan to overhaul LaGuardia's main terminal. There's no word yet on who will oversee that project, or what it will entail, but the Port Authority's very announcement of its plans earlier this year led to the exciting, but entirely unsolicited, completely non-official rendering at top.
The debate over the future of the abandoned Rockaway Long Island Railroad (LIRR) line is heating up, and while a proposal to convert the viaduct into a version of the High Line called the QueensWay has gained early momentum with support from the likes of Governor Cuomo, it looks like an alternative proposal to restore the long-defunct rail line is picking up steam as well. According to the Queens Chronicle, a source revealed that Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Greg Meeks will call for for federal transportation subsidies to return the line to rail service. For residents, the reactivation of the railroad could mean a significantly faster commute into Manhattan. Restoring the 4.2-mile Rockaway Beach Line, abandoned in 1962 and running from Rego Beach to the Rockaways, would cut commute times between Penn Station at the peninsula on the edge of New York City in half—from 80 minutes on a subway to 40 minutes. New signals, tracks, and a third electrified rail would need to be installed as well as major repair or replacement of spans along the route. An estimate by the Rockaway Subcommittee of the Regional Rail Working Group put the project cost at $400 million. Recently though, the QueensWay plan to transform the railway into 3.5-miles of a High Line-esque parkland, has been garnering a fair amount of attention. In the New York Times opinion page last week, Eleanor Randolph endorsed the linear park plan saying that it "offers far more promise than a forest that only thickens while people nearby yearn for places to walk, ride, snack and play." In December, Governor Cuomo donated nearly half-million dollars to the Trust for Public Land to conduct a feasibility study for the Queensway conversion, which got underway on Thursday. But then, there are a number of residents who would like to see the rail line left alone. Neil Giannelli, a Woodhaven resident whose house borders the tracks, founded the group "NoWay QueensWay" which is trying to derail both plans and leave the route as is. According to the group, a survey of 230 residents along a portion of the route resulted in 98 percent preferring no change.
There's plenty of tunneling going on underneath the streets of Manhattan. On the west side, digging through the city's bedrock has given way to interior station fit-ups for the Dattner-designed 7 line subway stations connecting Times Square to Hudson Yards as early as 2014. To the east, sandhogs continue to carve through solid rock for the $4.5 billion Second Avenue Subway Line while other crews outfit the tunnels with concrete and rebar. Between the two, more massive caverns are being opened up beneath Grand Central Terminal, which turned 100 this month, that will extend the Long Island Railroad to the famed station from Sunnyside, Queens in 2019. The $8.24 billion East Side Access Project will allow commuters to bypass Penn Station and enter Manhattan 12-stories below Grand Central. Now, the MTA has released a dramatic set of photos from inside the 3.5-mile-long tunnel, revealing enormous cathedral-like spaces connected by perfectly cylindrical tunnels. Take a look. Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow. All images courtesy Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin. [Via Gothamist.]
New York Governor Cuomo might have just tipped the scale in the heated dispute over a 3.5-mile stretch of abandoned railroad track in Queens with his donation of nearly a half-million dollars to the Trust for Public Land to conduct a feasibility study for a High Line-style linear park called the QueensWay. Slated to begin in January and February of next year, the study could take up to eight months to complete. But some Queens residents are pushing to restore train service on the elevated viaduct, and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a faster and more efficient connection between the Rockaways and Midtown Manhattan is winning the support of some local advocates and politicians. As Crain’s mentioned in a recent story, it would be no easy feat to rebuild the Long Island Railroad’s Rockaway branch, and could likely cost up to half-billion dollars.