After years of starts, stops and half-starts, the long-delayed expansion of Penn Station is set to begin.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced Tuesday the $270 million first phase of the project that will expand a concourse and add entryways on the western end of the station. Work is scheduled to start by the middle of 2012 and be finished in 2016.
"After 20 years of press conferences and press releases, there is good news," Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye said in front of the Farley post office building on Eighth Avenue across from Penn Station, the planned site of Amtrak's new terminal when the second phase of the project is completed.
The new terminal will be named after late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who championed the project beginning in the 1990s.
The project's first phase, which is being funded largely by federal transportation and stimulus dollars, will expand the concourse on the west end of the Long Island Rail Road tracks, beneath the post office building. Currently, riders arriving at Penn Station on LIRR or NJ Transit trains on the western end of some of the tracks have to walk the equivalent of nearly two crosstown blocks before they can ascend to the station.
The expanded concourse will relieve congestion by giving them new escalators and elevators to get upstairs as well as additional street-level entrances from Eighth Avenue at 31st and 33rd streets.
"From the point of view of NJ Transit riders, this is going to be a significant enhancement," Foye said.
Penn Station serves about half a million travelers per day and is the busiest train station in the U.S. It was built in 1910 and demolished in the 1960s to make way for the current station on the same site. Moynihan, who died in 2003, envisioned a station that would recreate some of the original's Neoclassical look.
Over the years, plans to rebuild, renovate or expand the station fell victim to politics and economics; in late 2010 New Yorkers were even treated to the sight of elected officials using sledgehammers on a fake brick wall in a symbolic groundbreaking.
The second phase of the current project is planned to turn the basement of the post office into Amtrak's new terminal. It will cost about $500 million, not including $200 million paid for the property by the Moynihan Station Development Corp., according to MSDC deputy director Michael Evans. It is still in the development stage, he said.
The aging post office will still have windows open to serve customers in its main lobby, Evans said, but most of the rest of the building will be turned into a massive concourse with a six-story-high atrium. That part of the project is dependent on the completion of the first phase, MSDC president Timothy Gilchrist said Tuesday.
"By getting that going, now Phase II can catch up to it," he said.
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