Surprise! MTA on the Hook for More Penn Station Money

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What the Long Island Rail Road concourse at Penn Station may look like in 2020

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo released further details of his plans to revamp Penn Station and transform the post office building across the street into a grand train hall, two points caught some transit watchers off guard: he said the MTA would spend $170 million to redo the Long Island Rail Road concourse, and another $50 million to upgrade the two subway stations at Penn.

And he wants all the work done by 2020.

While the $50 million in subway upgrades is more or less accounted for, the MTA's five-year capital program had only called for $71 million in Penn Station improvements. (See p. 87.)

"That is certainly a surprise," said MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool, who is also the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She said that while she was supportive of the Penn Station redesign, she had a number of unanswered questions, many of which she raised at the MTA board meeting Wednesday.

"Where is this $220 [million] coming from?" she asked Tom Prendergast, the Cuomo-appointed head of the MTA, adding that the governor had a tendency to "jump-start" transportation projects without identifying funding sources. "I'm particularly concerned about the impact that it's had — and going to have — on a lot of the projects in the [MTA] capital program."

"I'm sympathetic to your comments," said Prendergast, but he pointed out his hands were tied. "The governor has taken a position that says, 'Talk is over, it needs to get done.' I don't see a position where I, as chairman of the agency, can argue with that."

Prendergast said that the agency can't award a contract without identifying a funding source, so "that will be done."

The MTA's $26 billion capital program is the embodiment of the agency's building priorities. Think of it like the Constitution: it's a living, breathing document, so there may be future amendments. Shoehorning another $220 million into it wouldn't seem like a big deal — except much of the funding for the program already has a giant question mark next to it. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an analysis of the MTA's finances Wednesday, stating that when it comes to the capital program, "The State and the City...have yet to identify the sources for $9.2 billion of their $10.8 billion contribution."

The governor's office did not respond to a request for clarification.