Gov. Andrew Cuomo is right to call Penn Station “antiquated, substandard and inadequate to meet current transportation and public safety needs.” He’s right that its decrepit state poses “an unreasonable safety risk.” And he’s right to want to overhaul the transportation hub, which serves 650,000 people each day.
But that language is part of a mystifying open-ended document approved as part of the 2018-19 state budget that speaks vaguely of development plans and funding promises, but leaves Cuomo’s plans on how to fix Penn unclear. The wording worries some transit advocates and NYC officials that it’s a power grab for the state to do what it wants with Penn and the land around it. Cuomo himself has said that the language could pave the way for the government to take the land in condemnation proceedings.
During frenetic days in early April before the 2018-19 state budget passed in Albany, a draft of the state’s plan included a much wider swath of land around Penn and attempted to avoid state environmental review, city zoning and other requirements. While the approved language says nothing of the sort, its vagueness gives reason to question what really might happen.
But the safety risks, including dangerous overcrowding and security lapses, at Penn Station must be addressed. To complete a massive renovation of Penn, significant changes to Madison Square Garden, which sits atop the station, might be necessary. The state must proceed carefully and work with NYC. Overextending the state’s reach will only undermine the goal. The Empire State Development agency and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are key to any redevelopment effort, and the best part of the budget document is a phrase that calls for their collaboration.
It’ll be up to Cuomo to provide a detailed blueprint for Penn’s future and take the steps to make it a reality. Don’t make Penn Station a symbol of the battle for power between the state and city. Instead, turn it into a glorious gateway to both, one that gives commuters the experience they deserve.