Gov. Kathy Hochul said earlier this month that the state's...

Gov. Kathy Hochul said earlier this month that the state's proposed upgrades to Penn Station, seen here in a rendering, would take about five years. Credit: New York State Urban Development/Empire State Development

The head of the MTA assured lawmakers Friday that the proposal for a revamped Penn Station will be a drastic improvement over the “crummy, soul-crushing experience” that Long Island Rail Road commuters have today.

Speaking at State Senate hearing over the proposed $7 billion redevelopment of Penn Station, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Janno Lieber said the proposed improvements would transform the dark, narrow "19th century" corridors of the Manhattan transit hub into an “open, skylit concourse,” in line with more modern train terminals.

“Going through existing Penn is a crummy, soul-crushing experience right now. We would change it to be something much more like Moynihan Train Hall, with wide-open space, with light coming in, with intuitive navigation, with lots of entrances that make it easy to spread out, whatever direction you’re going,” Lieber said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month announced that the state had begun the project's design phase, and expected to award a contract to a firm to lead the redevelopment by early fall. The vision of the MTA, which will oversee the project, and the governor is for a single-level station that would remove most of the upper floor now used by Amtrak, Penn's owner.

On Thursday, Amtrak announced it had rewarded a design contract to add more tracks to Penn by having the state purchase the block south of the station. That project, and the plan to improve the station, relies on the development of up to 10 new skyscrapers around Penn. State officials are counting on revenue generated by tenants of the new buildings to fund the transit improvements below ground.

MTA officials said they also were seeking funds for the Penn project from the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill approved late last year.

With so many agencies involved in the project, including the MTA, the Port Authority, Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit, State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) expressed skepticism that the proposal, which is expected to be under construction through 2044, would remain on track.

“I know that things go wrong … Overruns on megaprojects that take decades is not an unknown concept to any of us in this room,” Krueger said. “Who’s going to pay when things go awry?”

Lieber said he welcomed the legislature’s push to keep the project on time and on budget. He said the MTA and the state would seek “ironclad commitments” from project partners to ensure they do their part.

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