OP-ED: More delay's ahead for $3.1 billion MTA Metro-North Bronx East Penn Station Access

Jan. 12, 2024
The final price tag for the project might grow beyond $3.1 billion

Initiation of the New York City (NYC) Urban Land Use Review Process (ULURP) should have already been completed prior to start of construction for the $3.1 New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Metro-North Bronx East Penn Station access project. It is NYC's legal public review process for planned land use and development projects by project sponsors. The process from start to finish averages seven months.

The 50 members of each local community planning board impacted by the project and the borough president go first, followed by members of the NYC Planning Commission and NYC Council. The NYC Planning Commission is made up of 13 members. The chair is appointed by the NYC mayor, who also serves as agency director.  In addition, the mayor appoints six other members. The five NYC borough presidents of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Richmond County (also known as Staten Island) each appoint one member. The NYC public advocate also appoints one member. The NYC Council is made up of 51 members.

Formal votes by both the NYC Planning Commission and NYC Council determine any projects fait. Both bodies can request changes to the proposals in exchange for positive votes. Any formal no vote can result in ending advancement of the project.

Both the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provided funding based upon the promise that this was a shovel ready project. The completion date has already slipped from early to late 2027.  Construction contracts were previously awarded.  

The ULURP will further delay completion for all four new Bronx stations.  Any design, engineering or scope of work changes as a result of ULURP could add to both cost and time for the project.  It could also trigger revisiting to update the federally required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and finding by both FTA and FRA.

The final price tag might grow beyond $3.1 billion. The original cost 20 years ago was forecasted to be $600 million. The original promised completion date was years ago. It will not be known until 100 percent of all contract punch lists are complete, final contract retainage is paid to all contractors and MTA makes public the cost of borrowing that supports project financing.       

Amtrak resources are also committed to other projects along the Northeast Corridor, between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Mass., for years to come. Three of these in the metro New York area include the $1.6 billion New Jersey Northeast Corridor Portal Bridge, $1.6 East River Tunnel and $16.8 billion Gateway Tunnel Hudson River Phase One projects.  This does not include ongoing routine maintenance at Penn Station Newark, Penn Station New York, Hudson and East River tunnels, $2 billion Maryland Susquehanna River Bridge, $4.7 billion 1.4 mile Baltimore Potomac Tunnel, $827 million Connecticut River Bridge, other stations, tracks, bridges, tunnels and facilities along the Northeast Corridor. 

Amtrak faces the ongoing challenge of providing sufficient numbers of employees to work on these key state of good repair and system expansion projects while supporting work on the MTA Metro- North Bronx East Penn Station Access project at the same time. Residents, commuters, future riders, taxpayers, local community planning board members, public officials and project supporters need to ask FTA, FRA, MTA and Metro-North why ULURP was not completed prior to receipt of federal funding and award of construction contracts.

Transparency on the part of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, MTA Chairman Janno Lieber and Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi in providing answers is required.

About the Author

Larry Penner

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously served as a former director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office of Operations and Program Management. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for New Jersey Transit, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYC Transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway, Long Island and Metro North railroads, MTA Bus, NYCDOT Staten Island Ferry along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.