New York's Cuomo backs Penn Station refurb, promises $22 billion for upstate

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo threw his weight behind a makeover of New York City’s Pennsylvania Station on Wednesday and announced a $22 billion investment in upstate roads and bridges, ahead of his annual keynote address next week.

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The governor is presenting parts of a program he will wrap together in his state-of-the-state address, when he has promised to lay out “the largest construction program in the modern history of the state.”

Cuomo touted the Penn Station development plan - a $3 billion project separate from the $22 billion program - as the center of a modernized transport network that will link airports, commuter rail networks, and redeveloped roads with the wider region. “It’s going to make the state for the next 100 years,” he said at a meeting in Madison Square Garden, which sits atop a large portion of Penn Station.

The governor is making a splash in the run-up to his sixth annual address next Wednesday. He has consistently tied his governorship to infrastructure projects and has spent this week invoking golden periods in the state’s industrial past, such as the construction of the Erie Canal and the interwar highway and bridge legacy of Robert Moses, New York’s “master builder.”

The plan, in its most ambitious form, calls for the redevelopment of the adjacent historic James A. Farley post office building as a new station concourse.

Authorities will issue this week a call for proposals from the private sector to design, build and finance the redevelopment. They aim to attract private capital in return for the retail rights at the facility, through which 650,000 commuters and long-distance rail passengers pass each day.

The timing of the $22 billion upstate investment was not immediately clear, but the governor said next year’s budget, which he will announce during his address next week, would contain $7 billion of spending on upstate regions.

Also on Wednesday, Cuomo said he would dedicate $1 billion to reducing tolls on the New York Thruway, a 570-mile highway that starts on the northern border of New York City, runs north to Albany and ends at Pennsylvania state line in the west.

What he called a “toll protection program” would freeze tolls until 2020, eliminating tolls entirely on agricultural traffic, and provide a tax credit for frequent users that would reimburse 50 percent of annual cost of use.

So far, details of the spending plans have been scant. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for further details.

Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Andrew Hay and Steve Orlofsky