Governor Kathy Hochul and Metropolitan Transportation Authority executives celebrated progress Tuesday on a project to build a wider walkway in the Long Island Rail Road section of Penn Station.
The MTA opened part of a half-billion-dollar scheme to widen the 33rd Street Concourse between 7th and 8th Avenue and raise its ceilings on Sept. 6, and officials say plans are to finish the renovation of a slice of the notoriously cramped transit hub by early next year.
The $559 million project covers about one fifth of Penn, but Hochul said it was a prelude to her larger plan to give the station a $7 billion facelift supported by payments from new surrounding office towers.
“You’re starting to see my vision for the new Penn Station that takes us from the depths of hell, to [where] you can see the lights and the skies of the heavens looking down upon us,” she said. “We’re getting there and it’s starting in this concourse.”
Hochul pitched the overhauls as a way to bring back transit riders, as daily trip rates are still down about 35% on the railroad and 40% on the subway compared to pre-pandemic.
“We need people to start coming back,” the governor said. “We want this to be an extraordinary experience and it can only happen if our infrastructure and the experience are up to meet our expectations.”
The current scheme began under her predecessor Andrew Cuomo in June 2019, when the MTA began building a new glassy entrance at the 7th Avenue end, which opened in December 2020.
The agency in March started taking down low-hanging beams, which were dubbed “head knockers” because some of them are only 6 feet above the floor.
The tunnel connects to the LIRR and the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 subway trains at 7th Avenue and the A, C, and E at the other end on 8th Avenue.
Pre-pandemic, 600,000 people passed through there each day, including most of the station’s 200,000 LIRR passengers, according to the MTA.
The concourse will have a uniform 18 feet height once its done, with bright LED lighting, and the width will nearly double from 30 feet to 57 feet.
Construction is set to wrap in the spring of 2023.
There’ll be a row of new retailers and food businesses lining the underground corridor, overseen by developer Vornado — the firm also pushing for Hochul’s future Penn Station real estate deal and revamp.
The current upgrades include a new elevator entrance and replacements of four elevators, along with a redone mechanical system that allows for better airflow.
On Tuesday, the passageway was partially raised, but the center section still had the old shorter height and exposed beams.
“That’s all gonna be brought up to the same 18-foot level. It’s just that we have to complete the construction in that zone,” said MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber. “It’s obviously a two-stage operation.”
There were also some drips of water coming from the brand new ceiling, but Lieber said those were due to condensation caused by the station’s old ventilation and not due to leaks.
“Penn Station, no secret, did not have proper ventilation — we’re fixing that,” the transit honcho said. “Part of that is balancing the air conditioning system. That’s why you’re seeing a little condensate, it’s not leaking.”
Riders were happy to see the upgrades for giving them more space on their commutes.
“Prior to the changes it’s always been bumping into people, it’s always been just a tight space, but now it looks definitely more spacious for everybody to and walk through,” said Bronxite Ashley Vega.
One longtime Brooklyn straphanger said he was eager to see the overhauls finish.
“I’ve been coming to Penn Station now for over 30 years, and this is a big improvement,” said Flatbush resident Charles Smith. “It’s not finished, but I like it.”