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Deals Reached on 3 Major NYC Transportation Projects

Now that Congress has approved a massive increase in spending on infrastructure, three big transportation projects in New York City with a combined estimated cost of nearly $14 billion are back on track.

Elected officials announced agreements on Monday to finish an overhaul of Kennedy International Airport and to improve commuter train service by adding stations and repairing tunnels under the East River.

The projects have been planned for years but were stalled by the pandemic and questions of how they would be financed. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden signed last month provided funding that helped resolve the issues that had blocked the projects.

In a deal brokered by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, Amtrak agreed to tap $500 million of new federal funding to help pay for the $2.87 billion project to connect the Metro-North Railroad to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, which is owned by Amtrak.

Metro-North, which serves suburbs north of New York City, currently takes riders into Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. Providing service to both of Manhattan’s main rail stations would make it easier for many suburban commuters to reach their offices.

Metro-North trains bound for Penn Station would also make stops at four new stations in the Bronx under the proposed project, known as Penn Station Access, providing a faster alternative to Manhattan’s business districts than the subway or buses.

In turn, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, agreed to spend as much as $432 million on the $1.3 billion project to repair the East River rail tunnels. Those tunnels, which are owned and operated by Amtrak but also used by the L.I.R.R., were damaged by flooding when Hurricane Sandy swamped the city nine years ago.

“The East River Tunnels are the most important link in the commute of hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders and a problem in one tunnel — like we have seen in the past — creates a nightmarish domino effect for the entire L.I.R.R. system, and that’s not acceptable, and now it will be addressed,” Mr. Schumer said.

Thomas K. Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, an urban policy group, said the agreement between Amtrak and the transportation authority reflected “a desire to do as much as possible before ridership fully rebounds” from the drop-off caused by the pandemic. “The more that can be done quickly, the better,” he said.

Mr. Wright called Penn Access a “fabulous project that is going to be a game-changer” when it is completed. “It’s not about laying new tracks. It’s about taking existing infrastructure and giving it a new purpose.”

Ridership on Metro-North and the L.I.R.R., along with New Jersey Transit, the region’s third major commuter rail, remains far below prepandemic levels as many commuters continue working remotely.

In a separate announcement, Gov. Kathy Hochul revealed that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had struck a revised deal for the construction of a $9.5 billion international terminal at Kennedy Airport. In that deal, a consortium of private companies would pay for the 2.4 million-square-foot building and the Port Authority, which operates the airport, would pay for the roadways, an electric substation and other infrastructure.

The Port Authority’s board will consider all elements of the deal when it meets on Thursday, said Rick Cotton, the agency’s executive director.

Overhauling the airport was a major infrastructure priority of Ms. Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, before he resigned last summer after a state attorney general report found that he had sexually harassed multiple women, including current and former aides. But Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, laid claim to it at a news conference on Monday.

She said that when she took office, she asked for a list of projects “that have been talked about for years but have been pent up or delayed or sidetracked for whatever reasons.”

The airport terminal, she said, was “really bold” and would “send a statement that this administration knows no boundaries in terms of its capacity to dream, to dream big, be ambitious, but also we have this unique moment in history when that ambition is met with the ability to have funding sources.”

Mr. Cotton said the sharp decline in air travel and the effect it had on the authority’s finances caused a long delay of the project, which is now scheduled to be completed in phases over nine years. The terms have been revised to add 10 years to the lease on the terminal, which would run through 2060, he said.

“It took two years to put this deal back together,” he said.

Along the way, Mr. Cotton said, the agency has received enough federal aid for its aviation division to allow it to commit to the necessary infrastructure improvements at the airport. He described some of that aid as “a pot of money which has been distributed to all airports in the country.”

As for the other projects in the Port Authority’s long-term spending plan, such as the proposed replacement of the main bus terminal in Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Cotton said that list would be re-evaluated on “a project-by-project basis.”

Mr. Wright gave Ms. Hochul credit for pushing ahead with the airport terminal project, even if it was a page out of Mr. Cuomo’s playbook.

The details of the plan may not be much different, Mr. Wright said, “but the style has changed a great deal.”

“What she’s showing is her ability to convene and get the partners together,” he said. “She’s making them all see their common interests. That’s really important.”

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