The East Bronx is in desperate need of more transit options. Westchester County is eager to get more people into its own commercial hub. Gov. Cuomo and the MTA have a plan to provide for both: Penn Station Access will be a Metro-North rail connection tying four new East Bronx stations to both Penn Station in Manhattan and to job centers to the north in Westchester County and Connecticut.
There is across-the-board support for this critical project — among Bronx communities, Westchester County residents and elected leaders at the county, city and state levels. The only thing standing in the way of the project moving forward is Amtrak, which needs to let the MTA commence work on the tracks they control.
It is long overdue for Amtrak to get on board.
For the past few decades, we have watched the Bronx undergo a vibrant transformation. Between 2010 and 2017 the population of the Bronx grew by over 6%, making it the fastest growing county in the state. Economic development and job creation are on the rise, yet there are still major transit deserts in the east Bronx.
Transit inequity both undermines the Bronx’s future and limits who can access the counties north and east of the Bronx. The border between Westchester County and the Bronx is shared, but currently there is no easy way for residents to access this corridor via public transportation.
When borough residents cannot readily reach jobs in Manhattan or in Stamford, Conn., we deny them economic opportunity. When Westchester residents cannot easily access Montefiore-Einstein and Jacobi Medical Centers, we limit these information and technology hubs in terms of job growth and innovation.
The Penn Access project will cut in half the time it takes a Co-op City resident to commute to Manhattan — or to New Rochelle.
It is also more obvious than ever that we need another route on and off Manhattan in the event of emergencies. As everyone remembers, during Superstorm Sandy, Metro-North service was compromised between Manhattan and the northern suburbs, causing harm to both the local and national economy.
This project makes a lot of sense for taxpayers at large. They would get a major new project by using Amtrak’s existing underutilized rail line through the Bronx, rather than trying to build a new line from scratch. That will speed construction and hold down costs — assuming everyone works together.
Right now, that is not happening.
Amtrak has much to gain from Penn Station Access; the MTA has already agreed to rebuild an enormous amount of Amtrak’s existing infrastructure along the line — tracks, signals, power systems. The MTA and Metro-North team have even agreed to share the cost of replacing the Pelham Bay Bridge — a 100-year-old structure nearing the end of its useful life.
But Amtrak apparently wants more — not just a new railroad, but “access fees” Amtrak does not collect from other regional commuter railroads, a commitment to foot virtually the entire bill to replace Amtrak’s 100-year-old bridge, and millions of dollars more.
That price is just too high.
Already on the Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access project, Amtrak is getting $1 billion worth of improvements from the MTA for free, while it has been responsible for big schedule delays and budget increases on the project.
For some families in the Bronx and in lower Westchester, Penn Station Access will mean the difference between economic isolation and prosperity. We cannot continue to let Amtrak hold this capital project hostage.