An MTA plan to fit another railroad in Penn Station — the busiest train hub in the United States — has cleared a major hurdle, officials said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Monday that the Federal Transit Administration had completed its environmental review for the $1.6 billion "Penn Station Access" project. The FTA found that the project would have "no significant" environmental impact.
Penn Station Access aims to link Metro-North’s New Haven line to the Manhattan transit hub, which already hosts the Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and six subway lines. Four new Metro-North stations would also be built in the Bronx as part of the effort.
"By making use of existing infrastructure, we are connecting people to these opportunities at a fraction of the cost it would take to build a new rail line," acting MTA chairman and chief executive officer Janno Lieber said in a statement. "The next step is to award a contract to one team that will manage both the design and construction in a coordinated way to deliver the project on time and on budget."
Though long coveted by communities in the Bronx, Westchester County and Connecticut, the project has raised concerns among Long Island commuters over the years because of its potential to contribute to crowding in the already heavily used Penn Station.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the station was already handling about 650,000 passengers daily. The MTA estimates that another 30,000 would ride Metro-North into and out of Penn each weekday.
"While tristate connectivity is important to Long Island’s economy, it’s equally important that LIRR commuters do not experience a reduction in service as a result of Metro-North trains utilizing Penn Station," said Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a pro-business group.
MTA officials have said they expect to complete the project by 2024. By then, the LIRR is expected to run fewer trains into and out of Penn because it will also be operating out of Grand Central Terminal as part of East Side Access, which is scheduled for completion in late 2022.
The MTA also expects to gain extra capacity at Penn, both through an ongoing renovation of the station, which would include widening walkways and raising ceilings, and a planned northern expansion that would add up to nine new tracks.