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May 2008
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Archive for May, 2008

Bloomberg to Meet with Rep. Mica on High Speed Rail Link

amtrakYesterday, the New York Sun reported that Mayor Bloomberg will be meeting with Rep. John Mica on Friday to discuss his proposal for a high speed rail link – or “rocket train” – between DC and NY, a bill we detailed last week (see ”New DC/NY High Speed Rail Link?” and “DC/NY High Speed Rail Legislation Advances in House.”) It’s no surprise that Senator Moynihan was an early proponent of the idea.
“It’s a little late in the game, but we need it,” the chairman of the political science department at Touro College, David Luchins, a longtime adviser to Senator Moynihan, said yesterday in an interview. “It’s important because of the cost of oil, its important because of the environment, and it would be great for the economy — I see no downside. It is the most economically sound way to move people from New York to Washington.” Mr. Luchins also said that the job of generating political support could be eased by the disgruntlement of lawmakers who must deal with the rigors of shuttling between New York and Washington. “The senator used to say you get one less day in purgatory for every day you have to spend on the shuttle,” Mr. Luchins said.
As for the role of Amtrak:
A spokesman for Mr. Mica, Justin Harclerode, said Amtrak could participate but that the congressman envisions creating high-speed service that would be independent of existing commuter and freight lines, which would likely require new tunnels and ridding existing tracks of curves to facilitate speed.
On Tuesday, Bruce Reed, the president of the Democratic Leadership Council, and Paul Weinstein, chief operating officer of the Progressive Policy Institute, presented high-speed rail as the solution for air congestion in an editorial for Newsday.
That’s why the next president and the new Congress should commit to building five new high-speed rail corridors in the next 10 years. The corridors would be selected based on three key criteria: geography (the flatter the terrain, the faster the train); a high probability of use (densely populated corridors with significant levels of highway and airborne traffic); and a commitment by the private sector, states and localities to share in the cost of construction. Wherever possible, the high-speed rail corridors should connect to major air hubs. Roads and airports have direct sources of financing – namely, taxes on gasoline and ticket purchases. If high-speed rail is going to become a reality, it will need a similarly robust stream of income. That’s why policymakers should establish a trust fund that would finance construction and maintenance. We could pay for this investment in a number of ways: carbon-offset purchases; a 4.3-cent diesel gas tax on the railroad industry that would raise about $200 million a year; ticket surcharges; and/or matching contributions from states served by the new rail lines.
How this would impact Moynihan Station remains unclear. Read “High-Speed Rail Solution for Chronic Sky Troubles,” by Bruce Reid and Paul Weinstein Jr. for Newsday Read “Congress Eyes a Rocket Train to Washington,” by Peter Kiefer for The New York Sun

Observer: Developers Want Port Authority to Buy MSG Block

msg overhead aerialEliot Brown has the news on the latest proposal from the Venture to lure MSG back to the negotiating table:
According to multiple people familiar with discussions, the joint venture of the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust wants the Port Authority to come in and buy the current Madison Square Garden, along with its hotly desired air rights, a task that would cost somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. The developers have told officials that this purchase by the public sector, which would be effectively paid back by the developers should the entire project come together, is necessary to right the troubled large-scale plan. By the public sector taking a risk that the developers apparently find too risky and/or expensive—in the failed plan, billions in funding and numerous agreements for the entire project were needed before the Garden could get a new arena—the developers seem to be reasoning that the Garden would be given enough certainty to be lured back to the table. Of course, there are many steps before that plan becomes anything more than a concept, as the bistate Port Authority would first need to be convinced that spending nearly $2 billion of highly sought money meant for regional transportation is a worthy investment, one that would come before actually rebuilding a train station. And then even if the Port Authority got behind the plan, it would still require the consent of the Garden. The Garden has made no signs that it will deviate from its renovation plan, and a Garden spokesman, Barry Watkins, was unequivocal about the company’s intention to renovate. “We have been and continue to be moving full steam ahead on the renovation of Madison Square Garden,” he said. The new plan also would require Governor Paterson’s putting the Port Authority in charge of the Moynihan Station project, a step he said earlier this month he would likely take, but has yet to execute. Mayor Bloomberg has publicly criticized the concept of giving the Port Authority control, as has Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the local representative, and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, chairman of the Assembly committee that oversees authorities. Governor Paterson has set an internal deadline of the end of June for the state to craft a path forward, according to people familiar with talks.
Read “The Accidental Ingenuity of James Dolan,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer

Grand Central Terminal & The Urban Railroad Station

Please join us tomorrow for the final event in our spring program series, “Can New York Build Another Great Train Station?” The Heart of the City: Grand Central Terminal & The Urban Railroad Station Wednesday, May 28, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., at the Municipal Art Society Great railroad stations are often not just gateways to cities, but are the beating hearts of cities. Midtown Manhattan is unimaginable without Grand Central Terminal, which defines Midtown’s circulation patterns, gathers and dispenses people, moves the masses with a functional elan that is inseparable from the aesthetics of its architects’ visions. It is the great object lesson in how cities are made livable when neither form follows function nor function follows form, but when they are one and the same. Join Francis Morrone, architectural historian, for a look at Grand Central in comparison to the old Pennsylvania Station as well as some other American stations, and with an eye to what the projected Moynihan Station could mean for the future of New York. $15, $12 MAS members. Reservations and prepayment required. Purchase tickets online or call 212 935 2075.

AYR Recaps Brodsky’s Hearing on Moynihan, other West Side Projects

Atlantic Yards Report has a thorough recap of Assemblyman Richard Brodsky’s hearing on West Side development held last Friday. Brodsky, who chairs the Assembly Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee, used the opportunity to question Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, ESDC’s acting president Avi Schick, MTA Chair Lee Sander and others about the public investment and current status of Hudson Yards, the 7 line extension, and, of course, Moynihan Station. We’ve excerpted some Moynihan-related items below, but the entire recap is worth reading – especially an exchange about using eminent domain for MSG. The Observer has a brief article on Sander’s comments about bringing light rail to the West Side and WNYC focused on comments about expanding Amtrak service at Penn Station to obtain further federal funding for the Moynihan project (see our related post on a federal proposal for NY/DC high speed rail).
Looking at Moynihan When it came to the Moynihan Station project, which could involve a new rail station in the Farley Post Office, the relocation of Madison Square Garden, and new office towers and retail over the current Penn Station/MSG site, Brodsky had the same basic questions. “How do I know how the public investment should be made versus private–what’s the rule?” he asked. You make what’s “necessary to maintain the infrastructure, to maintain the stature of the city” replied Avi Schick, acting president of the ESDC. “This is not a subsidy for economic development. It is maintaining and enhancing transportation.” Brodsky asked the “value of 5.4 million in FAR.” (He was referring to Floor Area Ratio but meant, simply, development rights.) It’s not a simple answer, Schick said, saying that the working number is $125/square foot–the figure Levin later disputed. Brodsky again asked about the appropriate relationship between public and private investment. “We take into account the nature of the project,” Schick replied gnomically. Brodsky acknowledged he was facing a formidable rhetorical foe. “I’m going to get you, Mr. Schick, but it’s going to take a bit longer,” he said playfully. (At the close of the hearing, he offered public thanks to Schick for service to the state, suggesting that this might have been Schick’s last public hearing. Schick is leaving in September, so that suggests that, at the least, Brodsky’s not planning to hold an Atlantic Yards hearing by September.) Who’s paying? Brodsky brought up the apparent effort by Madison Square Garden to get government to advance the cost of building an arena. “To my understanding, it’s not for the Garden, it’s for the [Moynihan Station] project,” Schick said. Has the Garden asked for such support, Brodsky asked. No, replied Schick. Brodsky amended his question: Has the joint venture–involving Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust–asked for such funding. Yes, replied Schick. Lieber added the entire financing plan was under discussion. Summing up In closing the hearing, Brodsky said the general question of whether we’re subsidizing projects at an appropriate level still remains. Still, he said he appreciated the government officials’ willingness to answer questions at a public forum, calling it an important part of the governmental process. “I hope we can move forward on these [West Side] projects,” he said. “I fear we’re in more trouble than we’re letting on.” (He noted that it was news to him that the hearing brought out the city’s commitment to spend up to $3.5 billion on the #7 line, given that he’d previously criticized the city for committing to only $2.1 billion.) He said he was recessing rather than closing the hearing, given that he hoped Port Authority representatives would testify as well. Does the legislature have any power, he was asked after the hearing. While it may not have direct oversight of such project, he said, in the long run the legislature has the power to pass laws restricting certain actions. Again he criticized governance mechanisms to manage projects that bypass democracy. “What we’ve structured is a set of governance mechanisms that eliminate democratic institutions,” he said. “And the net result is that anonymous people…. this is a set of Soviet-style bureaucracies that are acting without any public accountability, even when they’re right. They would much rather discuss whether they’re right or wrong…. The reason we’re in this problem with these projects is that the governance is secretive and out of touch, and we don’t have enough money.” Doesn’t Brodsky favor a new authority, however, to oversee the Hudson Yards project? “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” riposted Brodsky, never at a loss for words. “The answer is, right now, I’m wrestling with a series of emergencies and the fact of the matter is that the Hudson Yards deal does not represent a thought-out economic development strategy or priority for what the city and the region need. In defense of that, we’re scrambling for ways of gaining some control. It’s not necessarily intellectually consistent.” “Having said that,” he continued, “what today’s hearing was about was bringing out into public view the realities of decisions, like on Moynihan, like, for example, the Garden is now seeking public monies.” (He said he’d seen documents that have not been made public.) “The Dolans have every right to seek public support,” he said. “The public ought to deal with it intelligently. That’s what this is about. This is about returning these things to the control of public agencies.” Agencies, perhaps, but not–as per his comments–public authorities.
Read “At West Side Hearing, Brodsky Questions Subsidies, Muses About Eminent Domain for MSG,” from Atlantic Yards Report.

DC/NY High Speed Rail Legislation Advances in House

amtrakAccording to the Wall Street Journal, the bill that would have the U.S. Department of Transportation solicit proposals for a high speed rail service between NY and D.C. was approved on Thursday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Chris Conkey reports that “the bill’s prospects appear to be strong since it enjoys the support of the committee’s Democratic and Republican leaders.” (For more info on the bill read yesterday’s post: ”New DC/NY High Speed Rail Link?” and this reader’s comment). From the Journal:
“One way to address road and air congestion is by expanding our passenger rail system,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, (R., Pa.), the ranking Republican on the House railroads subcommittee. Rep. James Oberstar (D., Minn.), chairman of the transportation committee, called the vote a historic milestone. “We ought to at least do in America what has been done in France to promote passenger rail service,” he said. The slow-moving U.S. rail network pales in comparison to the popular high-speed routes in Europe and East Asia. But hints of change are emerging. California is poised to vote on a ballot measure this fall that would steer over $9 billion toward the development of a high-speed route stretching from Sacramento to San Diego. Several Midwestern states have teamed up in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which aims to speed up service times between Chicago and cities such as Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis. The federal bill that advanced in the House Thursday would provide nearly $1.8 billion in grants to develop rail corridors between cities where trains can travel up to 110 miles per hour. Another provision of the bill, championed by Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), would have the Transportation Department solicit proposals for high-speed service along the heavily traveled and densely populated New York to Washington, D.C., route. Mr. Mica’s goal is to offer consumers a rail option that would connect the cities in two hours. It takes 2 hours and 45 minutes for Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela Express, to cover that distance.
Read “Railway Legislation Advances in House,” by Christopher Conkey for The Wall Street Journal

Preserve Your City: Support Funding the Landmarks Commission

To ensure that the success of the past two years in increasing the budget of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and improving its ability to protect the city’s most important historic buildings continues in fiscal year 2009, join MAS, Council Members, and other preservation groups this Wednesday, May 28, at 2:00 p.m., on the steps of City Hall to rally for adequate funding for the LPC. Bring a sign or prop illustrating your favorite undesignated neighborhood or building so that the Council and the public can see all of the various sites across the city that require the LPC’s attention. If you can’t be there, e-mail your Council Member and ask them to support the the renewal of $300,000 for the LPC’s budget for the coming fiscal year, and watch the new movie above explaining why this additional funding is so important.

New DC/NY High Speed Rail Link?

During the first of our series of programs on Moynihan Station, Walter Zullig, counsel emeritus to Metro North Railroad said the “federal government has abdicated its responsibility” in supporting rail and, as a result, we lack a world class passenger rail system in the Northeast Corridor. That may be changing according to an ambitious bipartisan proposal in Congress to allow private companies to develop a high speed passenger rail link along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Last week U.S. Rep. John L.Mica (FL), the Republican leader of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, was in New York touting the proposal to a group of international finance experts at the Dow Jones Infrastructure Summit. According to a press release, Mica recently introduced legislation, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (H.R. 5644), that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to solicit proposals from the private sector for engineering, financing, and development plans for a high speed DC/NY link, to be followed by similar projects across the U.S. A map of the proposed rail link: map northeast corridor high speed rail proposal 2008 Here are some recent quotes from Mica:
“With the promise of a trip time from center city Washington to center city New York of under two hours, this legislation would foster a renaissance for the heavily congested Northeast Corridor by opening it up, for the first time, to private sector transportation investment and expertise. The private sector must be part of the solution if we as a nation are going to solve the problem of how we finance our tremendous infrastructure needs,” Mica said. “Three-fourths of chronic aviation delays in this nation are a result of congestion in the New York area airspace. Air traffic control modernization is still years away, yet even then modernization will only improve aviation congestion at the margins,” Mica said. “True high speed rail, beginning in the Northeast Corridor between Washington and New York and followed by other corridors around the country, can offer an efficient and environmentally friendly transportation alternative and relieve congestion across the United States.
The Associated Press reports:
In response to a suggestion that the Air Transport Association, a trade group for the U.S. airline industry, would not support such a proposal, Mica underlined the urgent need to update the rail system. “We’ll drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” he said. The upgraded rail network is merely the tip of the iceberg, though, of changes that Mica deems necessary to modernize the nation’s highways, tracks and bridges. Funding for the projects remains a major hurdle. He estimates that about $1.5 trillion must be spent over the next five years just to maintain the current system. Mica suggests that a partnership between public and private financiers is the key to getting some projects, including the high speed rail network, off the ground. Next, Mica said the regions that require the most help need to be identified and plans on how to connect individual state networks need to be laid out. “All you need is the rules of the game, and then you can play,” he said.
Amtrak ceo Alex Kummant downplayed the idea of involving the private sector when he spoke to the Associated Press on the sidelines of a hearing on the bill last week:
“I’m open to any innovative ideas,” he said. “I just think we need to be really honest with ourselves on what the British Rail experience really was.” The privatization of Britain’s state-run rail service in the mid-1990s proved unpopular and critics blamed it for poor service and safety problems. Many aspects of privatization were subsequently undone. Limited-stop trains on Amtrak’s Acela Express service already make the New York-Washington trip in 2 1/2 hours, and the tens of billions of dollars it would take to create a two-hour service might be better spent elsewhere, Kummant said.
We would like to see some comments about this idea. Let us know what you think. Details on the legislation from the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: The bill is a five-year reauthorization of Amtrak, and includes the essential provisions of H.R. 5644, a bipartisan bill Mica, Shuster and others introduced in March. Although the Amtrak Acela currently provides passenger rail service between Washington D.C. and New York City, the route’s average speed of 83 mph pales in comparison to speeds of successful systems in other countries, where fast and reliable high speed rail plays a vital role in transportation. French and Japanese trains, for instance, hit speeds of 200 mph and more, making these systems attractive alternatives to driving or flying. The high speed rail provisions in the Amtrak legislation include: • The Department of Transportation will solicit proposals for development of a high speed rail link along the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and New York City; • Proposals will include engineering, financing, and development plans for the DC/NYC corridor; • Proposals will require DC to NYC express service of no more than 2 hours; • DOT will convene a Commission of state, local, federal, rail and rail labor stakeholders to evaluate the proposals and report its recommendations to Congress; • Congress will evaluate the Commission’s report and take the necessary action to commence work on the corridor; • The DC/NYC link will serve as a pilot for similar projects across the United States, and the DOT Secretary may request proposals for other corridors after selection of the Northeast Corridor proposal; • Guarantees labor protections; and • Requires a study to examine how to achieve maximum economic utilization of the Northeast Corridor. Read “US Rep: High Speed Rail Will Ease Transport Woes,” by the Associated Press Read “Bill Would Open Door to Private, High-Speed Rail,” by Sarah Karush for the Associated Press

Sun: Shifting Moynihan to Port is “End Run Around Silver”

farley post office columns nightToday, Peter Kiefer reports that “Senator Schumer’s plan to give the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey control of the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Station is being viewed as an end run around the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and the state Legislature.” Excerpts below:
As a bistate agency, the Port Authority is not subject to the Public Authorities Control Board, which gives final approval on financing for public projects in New York State. In recent years, Mr. Silver has controlled the PACB, and has used it to wield influence over a number of development projects — most notably to kill Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to bring a new Jets stadium to the Hudson rail yards, and Governor Pataki’s plan to convert the Farley Post Office building into Moynihan Station. In the past, Mr. Silver has used his PACB vote to wrest concessions for his district, Lower Manhattan. Less than two weeks before Mr. Silver cast his vote to derail the Jets stadium project, Messrs. Pataki and Bloomberg announced plans to spend more than $800 million on a slew of projects for Lower Manhattan… Proponents of the transfer say the Port Authority could use the $2 billion that is available in its capital plan to plug a public funding gap and get the project back on track. At the end of 2007, the Port Authority, which controls the area’s ports, airports, and most New York City toll bridges and tunnels, reported gross operating revenues of about $3.2 billion.
Regarding Assemblyman Brodsky’s hearing on Friday:
The chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Corporations Authorities and Commissions, Richard Brodsky, opposes the Port Authority taking the lead role on the project, and is said to be addressing the matter at a hearing on Friday. Mr. Brodsky said the problem stems from the state of New Jersey’s refusal to alter the governing structure of the Port Authority. “There is no statute that can control Port Authority behavior,” he said. A spokesman for Mr. Silver, Daniel Weiler, said: “The speaker’s concern is that before jumping on new projects, we need to see existing projects come to conclusion.” Mr. Schumer’s office would not respond to a request for comment. “The Moynihan Station is a vital project and we are pleased by the discussions of confidence in our role as a builder in the region. But any potential role is up to the board and consultations with the governors,” a spokesman for the Port Authority, Steve Sigmund, said.
Today, the Port Authority’s board of directors is expected to officially appoint Chris Ward as the agency’s new executive director. Read “An End Run Around Silver is Seen as Schumer’s Gain,” by Peter Kiefer for The New York Sun Read “Brodsky, Gottfried None Too Happy About Moynihan’s Move to Port Authority,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer

Brodsky to Hold Hearing on West Side Projects

Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky plans to hold a hearing on Friday regarding West Side projects. During last Tuesday’s MAS program: “Moynihan Station: What Needs to Happen Next,” Brodsky described the plans for the West Side as a “stadium vision without a stadium” and called the decision-making process “bizarre and un-American.” (The Atlantic Yards Report has a recap here) We will have more on last week’s panel, including several videos, soon. In other news, on Sunday Charles Bagli reported on the state of ESDC: “For more than a year, the state’s main economic development agency, the Empire State Development Corporation, has been in disarray, plagued by turf battles, poor management and the political collapse of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, business leaders and state officials say.”
Now with the economy slowing, credit markets tightening and tax revenues shrinking, the agency must make some hard decisions about its priorities. But at this important juncture, it remains rudderless.
As for who will take over the agency, the list of candidates is said to include Alan H. Fishman, the former chief executive of Independence Community Bank; John Kanas, the former chief executive of North Fork Bank; Mark A. Willis, an executive vice president at JPMorgan Chase; and Sharon L. Greenberger, president of the School Construction Authority. A nomination is expected in June.

Testimony on Proposed Community Board Budget Cuts

Yesterday, the Municipal Art Society Planning Center (which staffs the Campaign for Community-Based Planning), submitted testimony at a City Council Executive Budget Hearing on the issue of the City’s proposed community board budget cuts. As we noted this week, community boards have not received a budget increase since 1986, and now face a new proposal by the administration to reduce each board’s budget by $16,000. This cut to the boards’ already meager budgets would greatly impede their ability to perform their City Charter-mandated responsibilities, including planning and other service delivery duties. The full testimony is after the jump; We encourage you to use this information and contact your Council Member in support of community boards and against the budget cuts. Continue Reading>>

New Video: The Struggle to Build Penn Station

On April 23, historian Jill Jonnes delivered a fascinating presentation on the construction of Penn Station and its tunnels, the subject of her recent book Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic. The event was part of MAS’ spring program series Can New York Build Another Great Station? With the aid of some amazing photographs rescued from the depths of the Pennsylvania Railroad archives, Jonnes recounted the “titanic battle with nature” that culminated in the construction of the original Penn Station. Continue Reading>>

LPC Gives St. Vincent’s Buildings “Own Day In Court”

st vincents hospital redevelopment project new york cityLast week, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held another hearing on the St. Vincent’s Hospital redevelopment plans and their proposal to demolish of nine buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District. At the hearing, the LPC took a strong stance to protect the integrity of the city’s historic districts and ultimately the Landmarks Law. In its testimony, MAS had urged the Commission to determine the appropriateness of demolition for each individual building before considering the planned development, which is exactly what the commission did. MAS had written, “each of these buildings deserves their own day in court,” and last Tuesday, the Commission gave them that day.