Why hasn't the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) not looked for other low cost, easy to implement alternatives in the short run to provide commuters with access to Manhattan East Side and Grand Central Terminal since the 1980s?
Until the 1980s, both LIRR and New Jersey Transit riders exiting east at New York Penn Station had a direct underground passageway known as the Hilton Corridor or Gimbel's passageway. Gimbels was Macys chief competitor at Herald Square, which closed in 1986.
This passageway remains but stands dormant. It is a forgotten 800-foot underground link between Penn Station and Herald Square that provided an indoor connection to the 34th Street Herald Square IND and BMT subway, along with Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) station complex. Further, there was an adjoining nearby underground passageway starting at 34th street which ran along 6th Avenue, going as far north as 42nd Street. Many avoided the rain and snow by using this indoor path. Both passageways were closed many decades ago by NYC Transit and the LIRR, due to security issues.
If reopened today, Amtrak riders along with New Jersey Transit and LIRR commuters would have easy underground connections to the Broadway N, R, Q & W and 6th Avenue B, D, F & M subway lines along with PATH, which connects midtown Manhattan to Hoboken, Journal Square and Newark, N.J., rather than walking outside on the street exposed to both inclement weather and heavy vehicular traffic. By using either the subway or walking, riders would have direct access to both midtown and East Side Manhattan along either the Broadway, 6th Avenue, 42nd, 53rd, 59th or 63rd Street corridors, served by numerous subway lines and stations.
Consider transit riders disappointment that a proposal submitted by one of NYC’s developers, Vornado Realty Trust, to pay for construction to reopen the old Hilton Corridor was never completed. Vornado Realty Trust had offered to do this in exchange for a city zoning variance to construct a high rise office building at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street. While the zoning variance was approved, Vornado Realty Trust never moved forward with construction of a high rise office building. This was due to a weak market for potential renters.
The Vernando Trust developers proposal to reopen and widen the passageway from some points where it narrows to nine feet was $50 million. Converting the total length to 15 feet wide could cost up to another $100 million. This could have been a reasonable investment of $150 million out of the previous NY MTA $32 billion 2015 - 2019 Capital program plan for a significant transportation improvement that could benefit thousands of transportation riders. There is still time for the NY MTA to consider reprogramming $150 million out of the $51 billion 2020-2024 Capital Plan for this project. The MTA could also elect to use some of the $1.4 billion in annual Federal Transit Administration formula funding to finance this project. Another option is for the MTA to enter this project into one of the FTA's national competitive grant funding programs.
Why wait for the LIRR to provide access to Manhattan midtown eastside via Grand Central Terminal? The most recent recovery schedule for the LIRR Eastside Access project calls for revenue service opening to the public starting by the end of December 2022. It is disappointing that the old Hilton Corridor, which previously provided transit options for thousands of rush hour commuters remains unused after so many decades.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, MTA Bus, NYC DOT, NJ Transit, along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.