The second phase of Moynihan Station is nearly funded.
If there's anything the countless passengers moving through New York City's Penn Station this holiday weekend can agree on, it's the difficulty and general unpleasantness of moving through Penn Station. Despite being America's most heavily trafficked transit node, Penn Station remains a grim and crowded place. You don't even need to know it once looked like this:
to recognize the painful experience of enduring a place like this:
Some relief is expected to come in the form of Moynihan Station, a Penn Station annex located below the Farley Post Office next door. Phase One of that project, which should provide better platform access for Amtrak riders, is already underway and may be completed as early as next year. The problem has long been a lack of funding for Phase Two—a grand new train hall filled with retail stores and, if one can believe the renderings (below), quite a bit more breathing room.
Last week the New York Times reported that Phase Two funding might be closer than previously believed. The Times quotes Senator Charles Schumer, a Moynihan Station proponent, as saying that the city and two developers (Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust) have pledged $500 million for the great hall, leaving only a $200 million gap. Schumer called on the federal government to make up the difference.
A $200 million funding gap isn't big at all in the grand scheme of U.S. infrastructure projects; it seems quite feasible (though it seems equally possible that the project cost will rise). But as Ben Kabak of 2nd Ave. Sagas reminds us, Moynihan Station would do nothing to address the biggest pressing need for Penn Station: more train capacity under the Hudson River. Unless that shortcoming is addressed, he writes, Moynihan Station will become a "nicer shell for an older problem":
But the largest problem with the project remains firmly in place: For $1 billion, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation is creating a nicer waiting room for Amtrak without contemplated or expanded train capacity through the station. There's no denying that Penn Station needs fixing. It's not a pleasant place to be, and that inevitably will lead some people to eschew train service. But as dollars for transit are scarce, the priority should be expanding trans-Hudson capacity.
Whether or not the Moynihan Station annex (or a completely new Penn Station) will provide better transportation, as opposed to just a better transportation home, is one of several key questions we posed for New York's next mayor before the last election. The Times reports that the De Blasio administration is addressing the issue with "fresh eyes." That's a good thing—provided those eyes look past the passenger crowds to the train capacity. Everyone likes a comfortable waiting area, so long as what they're waiting for eventually arrives.