MTA's Metro-North Penn Station access project gains traction

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The $1 billion Penn Station access project can proceed now that Amtrak, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Empire State Development Corp. have signed a memorandum of understanding, MTA capital construction chief Janno Lieber said Tuesday.

Lieber credited Gov. Andrew Cuomo for brokering the deal that ended a spat between the MTA and Amtrak, which owns the tracks in question, over financial obligations for repair work along the corridor.

"It's a long time coming," Lieber said Tuesday.

Plans call for four new Metro-North Railroad commuter stations along an underused line in the East Bronx with access to Penn Station on Manhattan's West Side. All Metro-North trains now go into Grand Central Terminal, on the East Side.

The stations are Hunts Point, Parkchester/Van Nest, Morris Park and Co-op City.

The MTA's Metro-North committee on Tuesday approved a $35 million contract with HNTB New York Engineering and Architecture for preliminary engineering and design. The full MTA board will vote on the agreement on Thursday, and Amtrak's board must similarly approve it.

The MTA is one of the largest municipal issuers with $38.8 billion of debt on its core credits as of Dec. 31. On Jan. 31 it intends to issue $500 million of Series 2019A transportation revenue green bonds and $750 million of bond anticipation notes.

According to Cuomo, Empire State Development will work with the MTA on the planning and advancement of the project, which he said would "help unleash a new generation of economic development for the Bronx."

As part of the agreement, Amtrak and MTA will jointly study the feasibility of Amtrak running several trains daily from Long Island to Penn Station and continuing either north to Boston or south to Washington.

"This is a long-held dream of mine," said acting MTA chairman Fernando Ferrer, a former Bronx borough president.

The MTA's 2015-2019 capital program contains the initial investment of $695 million for the project, including $250 million in state resources through Empire State Development. The MTA is seeking additional funding for the project in the 2020-2024 capital program.

The new service would bring Metro-North trains over the Hell Gate Bridge into Queens, where they will merge with the MTA Long Island Rail Road's route, proceeding through the East River tunnels into Manhattan and west to Penn Station.

HNTB will advance the preliminary design, while developing project schedule and construction strategies. Work will also include analysis of options for train operations along the line, finalization of track alignments, and community outreach work.

An MTA capital construction selection committee unanimously ranked HNTB's proposal the highest ranking technically. Two joint ventures, Aecom-Jacobs and Parsons Transportation Group-STV, also submitted bids.

In addition to the preliminary design services, the contract contains options for different construction methods.

Lieber said the MTA is "dead serious" about completing the project by 2022.

The project comes as transit advocates clamor for improved coverage in perceived "transportation deserts" in the city's outer boroughs and the state-run authority is pressed to find a reliable funding stream for its operational and capital needs.

Cuomo revealed his East Bronx plan in his 2014 State of the State address. He also cited resiliency, saying the expansion would provide alternative access to Manhattan should anything happen at Grand Central.

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Infrastructure Transportation industry Andrew Cuomo Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York