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Op-Ed | How the MTA plans to invest new federal funding

MTA's Janno Lieber.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

Christmas came early for the MTA this year when Congress passed the long-awaited bipartisan infrastructure bill on November 5. Thanks to the leadership of our hometown hero Senator Chuck Schumer, New York State is looking forward to $10 billion or more in new money for mass transit. 

This funding will be used for long-term improvements and upgrades for the subway, bus, and commuter rail systems, including 2020-2024 Capital Program highlights like new subway signals, more electric buses, and accessibility projects at dozens of stations. We’re firmly focused on the future and how we can improve public transportation coming out of the pandemic. After all, the MTA is the economic engine that powers the regional recovery. 

Governor Hochul set the tone that we need to think big with her revised proposal for Penn Station. Her plan calls for transforming the deservedly maligned station from the dilapidated dungeon we know today into a world-class transit hub, in large part by removing most of the upper level to create Moynihan Train Hall and Grand Central-sized passenger circulation and ceiling heights—and also to allow natural light into the station for the first in 60 years. The Governor has also made it clear she wants to get it done much, much faster than previously planned. 

Some critics have complained that the Governor’s plan fails to increase rail capacity, but I don’t see that as valid. We definitely need to add new tracks and platforms at Penn. That is part of the Gateway Project and New York has already committed billions for new Hudson River Tunnels. But Amtrak’s plan calls for the new tunnels to be done in 2035. In the meantime, why should riders be forced to use a station that the New York Times has described as “one of the most claustrophobic, confusing and spirit-throttling spaces in the city?” The answer is simple: they shouldn’t.

We have a rare window of opportunity now to build on momentum that started with the opening of the East End Gateway last year at 33rd St and 7th Ave and the ongoing work to the LIRR Concourse in Penn Station. Moynihan Train Hall is open and serving virtually all Amtrak customers. East Side Access is getting closer to completion, which will shift a large portion of LIRR riders to Grand Central. And work is about to begin on Penn Station Access, the transformative megaproject that will build four new Metro-North stations in the East Bronx and bring Metro-North trains into Penn Station for the first time. 

If we time it right, we could have a brand-new Penn toward the end of the decade, just in time for Metro-North service to begin. There’s no time to waste. Let’s get to work.

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