In September 2008, Governor Paterson strode into a Friday luncheon of the New York Building Congress, and pledged he would succeed where the past three people with his job have failed: His administration would carry out the long-desired but ever-elusive plan to expand Pennsylvania Station.
Now, with little heard on the topic since, it seems his administration has chartered a course forward on the beleaguered civic project known as Moynihan Station, with the only navigable routes resting on the hope that President Obama will come to the rescue.
With no other money lying around to fill the $400 million-plus in funding gaps, the Paterson administration is pinning its aspirations on winning funding from the federal stimulus package in two separate rounds of applications, according to numerous people briefed on the matter. Tuesday, the state was expected to put in an application to Washington for about $100 million for belowground work, with plans in the works to later put in another big ask—perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars—in funds meant for high-speed rail.
Uncertainties abound, and the history of false starts with Moynihan suggest that the optimists are almost always disappointed (the project has been in varying degrees of “almost ready” since 1993). For one, there will be far less stimulus cash than there are hungry mouths to feed, and thus Moynihan will be pitted against rail and other transportation projects nationwide. Competition will be intense: Earlier this summer, the federal government saw $103 billion in preliminary requests for its $8 billion in high-speed rail stimulus money.
In Moynihan Station’s favor, the requests have the backing of Senator Charles Schumer, who urged stimulus money for the project in May, thereby bringing in a powerful voice of advocacy in the Democrat-controlled capital. Further—and improbably amid the recession, budget crises, and general disorder in Albany—many of the key barriers to starting work have begun to tumble, bringing new hope for the more than $1.1 billion project.
The first of those hurdles was the previously unresolved issue of a tenant in the expanded station, housed in the historic Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue. In Moynihan’s one-and-a-half decade history, Amtrak, then New Jersey Transit, and most recently “T.B.D.” were each slated to call the Farley building their home. But at least as of Sunday, Amtrak—which originally conceived of the idea of expanding Penn Station into the Farley Post Office back in the early 1990s before later backing out—publicly said it was back in, agreeing to move its operations across the street should a train station ever be built there.
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