Cautious Approval, Skepticism for Penn Station Overhaul Plan


Horrible. Dirty. A dump.

Commuters going through the city’s Penn Station have choice words for it, none of them good. So plans announced this week that would widen concourses, raise ceilings and create a sparkling, light-filled waiting area across the street were greeted with cautious approval — and skepticism about whether the long-talked-about effort at the nation’s busiest train station would come to fruition.

“I think anything would be an improvement,” said attorney Brigit Zahler, who splits her time between Red Bank, New Jersey, and West Islip, on Long Island, east of New York.

She said she’s been going through Penn Station daily for more than a decade.

“It’s horrible. I literally hate coming here,” she said Wednesday as she sat on her backpack because there was nowhere else to sit. “It’s everything that’s bad about the city: It’s too crowded, there’s not enough exits … and it’s ugly.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo shared that sentiment when he announced the plan and its contractors on Tuesday.

“It is dirty, it is dingy, it is dark, and that is not what New York is all about,” said Cuomo, a Democrat.

The plans call for the construction of a new train hall in the historic James A. Farley Post Office across the street. The hall, to be named the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Train Hall in honor of the late U.S. senator, would have dining and retail options and office space.

The underground maze of concourses that is the current Penn Station would be rebuilt, according to the plans. While it won’t be possible to bring in natural light, Cuomo said, the ceilings would be raised to 18 feet, and LED screens looking like a cloud-filled blue sky would be installed. The concourse, which commuter Anthony Lee likened to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, during rush hour, would be widened.

The project is priced at $1.6 billion, with a planned 2020 opening date.

Lee said he was skeptical of the project getting done, since it’s been talked about for years.

“For the volume of people that actually comes through here, I think something should have been done a very long time ago,” he said.

Penn Station has 650,000 daily passengers, three times the number it was designed for, on Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit train lines.

The Moynihan hall plan had been contracted to developers Related Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust for more than a decade. That agreement was cut, but Related and Vornado were selected again for the latest iteration of the project, along with Skanska AB.

Yolanda Flores, of Babylon, on Long Island, has no intention of still living in the area by the time of the station project’s expected opening. And, after 39 years of living in New York, she still didn’t entirely believe it would happen. But it would be a good thing, the payroll manager said.

“For future generations,” she said, “that will be nice to come to New York City and be proud of Penn Station.”

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