There is more to the recent news that the United States Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau approved refinancing. This has resulted in increasing the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan to the Empire State Development. It helped pay for the $1.6 billion Amtrak Penn Station Moynihan Train Hall. The project failed to add any new track or platform capacity for Amtrak, NJ Transit, LIRR or future Metro North Rail Road service to this facility.
The new loan provides an additional $80 million. This increases value of the loan from the original $526 million to $606 million. The additional funding is suppose to assist in paying for completion of security and passenger safety at this new facility. You have to wonder why this work was not completed prior to opening of the Moynihan Train Hall on January 1, 2021. Does this loan imply that the real final project cost has increased by $80 million to $1.680 billion?
Pre-COVID-19, there were 260,000 daily Long Island Rail Road and 90,000 New Jersey Transit commuters utilizing Penn Station. Amtrak riders account for only represent 5% of those who use Penn Station. Few LIRR or NJ Transit riders utilize Moynihan Train Hall.
In 1992, the estimated project cost was $315 million. Several years later, the cost grew to $500 million and the completion date slipped to the late 1990s. That generation of Amtrak, LIRR, NJ Transit officials, along with project sponsors such as Senator Moynihan and other public officials were not happy with both cost increases and project delays. Final cost grew to $1.6 billion upon opening.
The loan still has to be paid back by revenues generated from private sector investments with shortfalls covered by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The Empire State Development Corporation is counting on the sale of air rights over the Farley Building as the source for its $570 million contribution.
In our COVID-19 world, many commuters continue working from home part and full time.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.)