NY Governor To 'Fast Track' Key NYC Projects to Boost Virus Recovery
Seeking to "supercharge" recovery of the COVID-19 ravaged economy in New York—particularly in still hard-hit New York City—Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to 'fast-track' work on several major NYC regional infrastructure projects and labeled as "productive" May 27 talks with President Donald Trump to push federal funding and environmental approval for other long-stalled regional transportation megaprojects.
But neither Cuomo nor state agencies provided details on how projects' scope and schedules would accelerate.
The announcement comes as Cuomo set June 8 for a phase-one reopening of city non-essential construction and manufacturing operations and other businesses closed since late March. He estimated about 400,000 residents would return to workplaces.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would provide about 2 million masks to businesses based there and will set up a hotline in early June for employees to report safety concerns.
Cuomo pointed to a boost of the $8-billion ongoing upgrade of the city's LaGuardia Airport, as well as the $3-billion Empire Station project he announced in January to renovate and expand the overcrowded Penn Station rail hub in Manhattan, which both should occur now "while rail ridership and air traffic is down," the governor said on May 26, due to continuing COVID-19 travel and work restrictions in the city, and in its New York and New Jersey suburbs.
The Empire Station work could be impacted by falling revenue for Penn Station owner Amtrak, which could trigger layoff of 20% of its 18,000-person staff by the October start of its 2021fiscal year and a cut of $600 million in planned capital investment, rail line officials told employees.
NJ Transit last month awarded to architect FX Collaborative a $4.1-million contract for preliminary design, engineering and construction assistance on the extension of Penn Station's central concourse.
According to one industry executive with knowledge of the LaGuardia airport upgrade, the accelerated work likely involves up to $800 million in roadway upgrades already awarded and foundations for the planned airport rail link that has not been awarded.
Key LaGuardia tenant Delta Airlines hopes virus-lowered airport traffic will enable accelerated work on its $3.5-billion terminal redevelopment that could push completion to before the targeted 2026 date, CFO Paul Jacobson told an industry conference in mid-May.
Cuomo said the state also will fast-track infrastructure work to transport "low-cost renewable power downstate and production upstate" with construction of new cross-state transmission cables and an expedited power cable from Quebec to New York City to transport hydropower.
The Canada project is opposed by NY independent power producers.
The governor also clarified on May 29 that five upstate regions can move to the second stage of reopening based on expanded virus contact tracing and falling death rates, after initial confusion based on his contrary public statements the day before. All others beside New York City remain in first-phase reopening,
"We're starting to reopen in nearly every region all across the state," said Cuomo. "As the process continues, we have to supercharge the reopening to make sure that the economy doesn't just bounce back, but that it comes back better and stronger than ever."
Meanwhile, at a press briefing after his May 27 meeting with Trump, Cuomo said they had "good discussions" on securing long-stalled federal funding and regulatory approvals for three controversial projects—the estimated $2-billion Air Train link from LaGuardia to local rail lines; the next leg of Manhattan's Second Avenue subway; and the estimated $30-billion Gateway project to upgrade the 110-year old main Hudson River rail tunnel and NJ rail approach infrastructure.
The upgrade got a small boost earlier this week with $91 million in funding provided by the Federal Railroad Administration to Amtrak for repairs to the 110-year-old North Portal Bridge in New Jersey's Meadowlands, and to NJ Transit for system power upgrades.
The governor also seeks to eliminate a 2017 change in federal tax law that reduces deductions for state and local income taxes.
"If there’s ever a time to take on a major infrastructure program, it’s now. It will stimulate the economy, create jobs and will help America catch up to other countries that frankly have surpassed us," said Cuomo in a tweet. "It's just common sense."
But the funding boost faces strong opposition in the U.S. Senate, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell previously referring to aid as "blue state bailouts."