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Take Penn plan to destination

A rendering of the interior of the proposed

A rendering of the interior of the proposed new Penn Station. Credit: New York State Governor's Office

A re-imagined Penn Station with a larger, brighter train hall and a better passenger experience. A revitalized surrounding neighborhood. Extensive public spaces, hundreds of units of affordable housing, and the potential for pedestrian-friendly streets.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's plan to remake the crowded, cramped, yet vitally important Penn Station, which pre-pandemic served 600,000 passengers each day, and improve the area around it appropriately echoes many worthwhile proposals of her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, while incorporating needed changes to address community concerns and the shifting post-pandemic landscape.

Hochul's proposal, unveiled Wednesday, would create a single-level train hall with 250,000 square feet of passenger space — double the current configuration. It would add 11 new elevators and 18 new escalators and would improve passengers' ability to navigate a station that now is a maze of narrow hallways that lack clear connectivity.

Beyond Penn, Hochul still would redevelop the area around the station, but would reduce its scope by 1.4 million square feet, a 7% decrease. Her plan would include 540 permanently affordable units — something that wasn't part of Cuomo's effort — and would add eight acres of public space, including a 30,000-square-foot plaza. Hopefully, those changes assuage community concerns.

The plans for Penn itself are particularly important for Long Island Rail Road passengers, who would be prime beneficiaries of the station's remaking. With the East Side Access connection to Grand Central Terminal a year away from completion, LIRR passengers need two excellent options on either side of Manhattan to make the entire system work and bring back riders.

While Hochul is right to prioritize the aboveground parts of the project, she must also work on the necessary track and train capacity expansion south of Penn. That work is important to the region as a whole.

Some officials thought Hochul might choose to scrap any Penn plans associated with Cuomo, whose tenure often was praised for the boldness and execution of infrastructure projects. Her decision to embrace some of his ideas is welcome, because the region's future requires such big thinking at Penn and beyond. As Hochul continues to work through the rest of her public transit strategy, she would be similarly wise to avoid dismissing other vital projects, including the LaGuardia AirTrain.

As of now, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief executive Janno Lieber hopes to start construction at Penn after East Side Access opens next year and finish before Metro-North trains head into Penn, likely within the next five years. Hochul now has to flesh out her plans and bring federal and New Jersey officials on board, so they can pay their share for a station that's crucial to New Jersey Transit and Amtrak.

Then, she's got to show she can take another page from Cuomo's book — and transform fancy renderings into reality, on time and on budget.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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