Trade Center Derailing Moynihan?

Plans to expand Pennsylvania Station across the street into the Farley Post Office face fresh hurdles, as a new cost

Plans to expand Pennsylvania Station across the street into the Farley Post Office face fresh hurdles, as a new cost estimate for the project, known as Moynihan Station, leaves a funding gap of up to $1 billion.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has recently led planning efforts for Moynihan, completed a preliminary cost analysis of an expansion, coming up with a price tag of $1.4 billion, according to multiple officials involved.

The figure is more than twice the construction cost estimate given in 2006, though it includes new underground components that were not previously included, and about $1 billion more than the amount already committed by various government entities. A Port Authority official characterized the estimate as one designed with a very large cushion for contingencies, and with elements that could be trimmed.

The cost analysis comes as the Port Authority, once viewed as a cash cow of state government, is facing ever-growing financial commitments at the World Trade Center site. The overbudget project has been eating up whatever surpluses the agency once had in its long-term capital budget, and it is now locked in a standoff with developer Larry Silverstein that could mean $1 billion to $3 billion in additional commitments.

In the works since it was pushed by Senator Daniel Moynihan in 1992, the planned station has proved repeatedly to be a textbook case of the inability to execute large-scale public projects in New York City. There has long been support from civic groups and key politicians—four governors and three mayors have endorsed it—and even full funding has been lined up on previous occasions (though costs rose). But each plan has successively faltered before a shovel even hit the ground.

The Port Authority’s $1.4 billion estimate, completed about a month ago, includes the creation of a train hall in the eastern end of the Farley building and significant work underground to extend platforms and a concourse, and to allow Amtrak trains to run northward on an existing line that heads toward Albany.

Officials and advocates say there seems to be room for phasing in the project by perhaps getting started on some of the below-ground infrastructure before there is enough funding to build the station.

“The great news here is that the Port is taking it seriously, and the Port has resources,” Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, said Tuesday. “I think what you’d see is that you get started before it’s fully funded. … You phase it in over a couple of capital programs.”

A spokesman for the Port Authority, Stephen Sigmund, said in a statement that the cost analysis was not final, nor are plans for the project. “Any analysis at this point is very preliminary and no decisions have been made, but any proposal would include new transportation benefits along with station improvements,” Mr. Sigmund said.

Some of the below-ground improvements were not included in the 2006-era plans, pushed by the Pataki administration, accounting for some of the higher cost. Those 2006 plans estimated construction of the expanded station would cost about $640 million, according to a project document from the time.

Of that, $400 million has been committed by the city, the state, the federal government, the M.T.A. and the Port Authority; and another $223 million was expected from real estate developers Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust, which would receive development rights. (The Bloomberg administration has previously said it pulled its $154 million but would return it should the project get back on track.)

Now, with the real estate market and commercial lending paralyzed by the economic crisis, government officials are looking to make up previous private commitments and the additional costs with public money—hardly an easy task given the current fiscal environment.

In terms of potential sources of new money to fill the gap, officials and advocates are looking to the federal stimulus package for a chunk—Senator Charles Schumer has said he is attempting to secure $100 million for Moynihan from funds dedicated to Amtrak and high-speed rail.

As for the rest of the money, all eyes are on the Port Authority’s negotiations with Mr. Silverstein, as a construction and financing deal for his towers at the World Trade Center would take a very large hit to the agency’s capital budget.

  Trade Center Derailing Moynihan?