Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s call for the MTA to take on a $220 million renovation of Penn Station, when the agency has already committed to nearly $30 billion in infrastructure investments over the next four years, is adding to concerns over how the agency will pay for all its new expenses.
On Tuesday, Cuomo announced the new Penn Station initiative, which will include the Long Island Rail Road expanding to a newly built train hall at the Farley Post Office building on Eighth Avenue, and major improvements to Penn’s LIRR concourse and two MTA subway stations. All told, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is on the hook for about $220 million — $71 million of which the MTA had already budgeted for.
At a Wednesday meeting of the MTA board, board member Veronica Vanterpool told authority chairman Thomas Prendergast that she and other board members were surprised by the announcement and wanted to know where the money would be “coming from.”
“My biggest concern is that I think this agency has been stressed significantly over the past few years,” said Vanterpool, referring to the MTA’s long struggle to get the state to pass its 2015-2019 capital program, which was finally approved in May. “I’m just concerned about any additional acceleration of projects that were not originally identified as priorities now becoming priorities.”
Prendergast said the expansion of Penn Station has been discussed for two decades and was too important to pass up.
“The governor has taken a position that talk is over, it needs to get done,” Prendergast said. “I don’t see a position where I, as the chairman of the agency, can argue with that.”
It’s not the first time this year that Cuomo has tasked the MTA with an expensive new project. In January, Cuomo resurrected a plan to construct a third track on the LIRR’s Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville. The project has been estimated to cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.
Cuomo and MTA officials have said the state could amend the authority’s existing capital program, which already costs about $29 billion, to add the new projects. And while the state has committed to fund its share of the program, about $8.3 billion, it has offered few details of how it will do so, other than through long-term borrowing.
Proposals to create a new dedicated revenue stream for the MTA, including through congestion pricing in Manhattan and tolling free East River crossings, have failed to gain traction in Albany.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said he has “no concerns” about the MTA finding the money to pay for all the work.
“If we had a billion and a half dollars today for third track, we couldn’t spend it at one time,” Pally said. “We need the money when we need it. And I have no doubt in my mind when the money is needed, the governor will make it happen.”
A Cuomo spokesman said, “The governor is committed to fully funding the LIRR third track.”