May 27, 2021
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces Completion of Major Construction of East Side Access

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces Completion of Major Construction of East Side Access

Opening Day on the Horizon for the Largest Expansion of the Long Island Rail Road in 100 Years 

New MTA Construction & Development Transformed Project Approach in 2018 to Ensure Timely Completion in 2022 

Third Rail to be Electrified and Non-Passenger Test Trains to Begin Operating This Summer 

Project Focus Shifts to Testing and Commissioning of Project Systems Such as Power Communications, HVAC, Security, and More

Governor Cuomo: "This is a period of New York rebirth. It is rebirth. It is what we make New York to be."

Governor Cuomo: "East Side Access is the biggest transportation project being implemented in North America today. It was an audacious idea, an $11 billion project connecting Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station, but more, changing the entire regional transportation systemIt is an underground development that goes seven or eight blocks underground. Just imagine that. There is no other terminal that does that. We're going to build under Grand Central, and then we're going to build north, seven, eight blocks north underneath at that level. Amazing."

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the completion of civil construction on East Side Access - the MTA's megaproject connecting the Long Island Rail Road to a new 350,000-square-foot passenger terminal under Grand Central Terminal. This is the largest new train terminal to be built in the United States since the 1950s and the first expansion of the LIRR in more than 100 years. The new connection will double the LIRR's capacity into Manhattan with up to 24 trains per hour and cut travel time for Queens commuters by 40 minutes per day. 

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the event is available here.

PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks are available below:

Top of the morning to you. Good to see you in a different location. We have an exciting day planned. Let me introduce to you the people who are on the dais today. To my right as you know, Secretary Melissa DeRosa. To her right, Budget Director, Robert Mujica. And since being budget director is not really a full-time job, it's basically one day a week, he's also on the MTA board and the CUNY board. That was a joke about being budget director. To my lef is the man of the day, Janno Lieber, who has been handling all the major construction projects for the MTA. 

We're in Grand Central Terminal today. And we're going to go through the largest transportation development in the country right now. You're going to be the first to see it. Let's do a little housekeeping business about today. I like to stress the point that what we do today is going to determine tomorrow. This is a state in transition. It's a country in transition. It's a world in transition. What does the future hold? It depends on what you make the future. It's that simple. 

On the COVID numbers, all the arrows are in the right direction. They continue to be in the right direction. Positivity yesterday, 0.6, lowest since August 27th. So that's really great news. The number of hospitalizations is down to 1200. That's great. All the numbers are headed in the right direction.

The one number that is always a point of reality that stops us from saying well COVID is a thing of the past, 10 people died yesterday from COVID. So don't underestimate the power of this virus. 

Our number of vaccinations were over 18 million, 64 percent of at least one dose 55.8 fully vaccinated. We are now scratching four inches on increasing the vaccination numbers. The number of people coming in for vaccines is way down. So we're coming up with incentives and creative bonuses and trying to knock down the excuses is that people have, or fears that people have about vaccinations. But we are literally when you talk about 64 percent you look around the world. You don't have many countries that get higher than that. So this is really now, we're in the red zone, football analogy, every yard we have to fight for and we are fighting for, and that's what you see with all these incentives that we come up with and all these benefits that we come up with. We're trying to knock down any obstacles to vaccinations. 

Kaiser Family Foundation just did a study that said 48 percent of people who are unvaccinated say that they may miss work from the side effects of the vaccine if it makes them feel sick. 64 percent of Hispanics, 55 percent of African-Americans. Now, the side effects of the vaccine are very limited. I don't know anyone, frankly, who couldn't go to work the next day because of the side effects of the vaccine, but it is possible that you get mild flu-like symptoms. But it's not about the reality, it's about the perception. If you have 48 percent of the unvaccinated saying they're worried about missing work, because the side effects we want to address it.

Department of Labor today is going to put out guidance to all employers in the State of New York. If someone has side effects and they take off a day, that, by law, will be considered a paid sick leave day. So they must get paid for any day that they need to recuperate from the side effects of a vaccine.

Again, I don't want to suggest that there are going to be side effects because it's relatively de minimis. But if that's an issue for you, that issue is resolved. You won't miss a day's pay because of getting a vaccine. 

Also remember, we passed a law that says the employer must give you four hours off, paid, to get a vaccination. If you get two vaccinations, they must give you four hours off per vaccination. So, I understand the fears expressed in that study, but they're not reality based. You get time off to get the dose. If you're one of the very few that happens to get, uh, side effects from the vaccine, that's a paid sick day. So, that won't cost you money either.

And there are benefits to getting vaccinated. We have a whole host of benefits. The vaccines at the MTA hubs where people get free passes have worked very well in some stations. It was an experiment never done before, but it's worked very well. We're going to continue it at Grand Central and at Penn Station for another week.

Also, the racing season is coming up. July 15th, opening day at Saratoga. Anyone who is fully vaccinated will get free admission and that's opening up. 

So the COVID rates are going down. Vaccine rates are going up. This is a period of New York rebirth. It is rebirth. It is what we make New York to be.

And it's one of those moments in history where it is a character test. We went through hell. Yeah, we did. We got knocked on our rear end. Yeah, we did. So it asks us individually and collectively, what are you made of? You got knocked down, but do you get up and how do you get up and who are you when you get up? What's a real New Yorker? 

There's an ongoing conflict in the Middle East, as we all know. But, you can have your own opinion on the conflict in the Middle East, that's what you're entitled to. That is not an excuse for anti-Semitism towards anyone, period. Period. There are two separate concepts. You have a political opinion about the Middle East conflict, you're entitled to it. You express that through an anti-Semitic act, it's un-American, it violates New York's ethic and it is illegal. It's all three of the above. 

I'm an Italian American, born and bred New Yorker. You know why New York works? Because we have a compact and a mutuality of understanding. If anyone discriminates against me because I'm an Italian American, I expect other new Yorkers to stand up and say, "We don't tolerate that." When you discriminate against an Italian American, when you discriminate against a Jewish person, anHispanic, a Black, you discriminate against every New York because every New Yorker believes in that acceptance and that mutuality and that collegiality and that acceptance. We have no tolerance for anti-Semitism, period. No New Yorker has any tolerance for discrimination against any other New Yorker. And that's what makes New York special. 

We're going to provide additional State Troopers to Jewish communities, and especially Jewish religious and educational facilities. And we're going to be affording priority protection during Shabbos because as you know, there has been a disturbing number of incidents and I want our message to be very loud and clear - New Yorkers stand together in solidarity. We have no tolerance for discrimination against anyone and that certainly applies to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

It is personal, and it should be personal for every New Yorker. There is no New Yorker who doesn't have friends, family who are members of the Jewish community. My two brothers in law, my nieces are Jewish and it is personal for me and it's personal for all of us. It's also illegal. Forget morality, ethics - it's illegal. And these attacks against people who are Jewish because they're Jewish or these attacks against Asians because they're Asians, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It is illegal. They are hate crimes. We have one of the strongest hate crimes in the country, hate crimes laws. And I give you my word personally, that those laws will be fully enforced.

What does it mean to be a real New Yorker? It means when life knocks you down, you get up and you get up stronger. We've done it time and time again. Superstorm Sandy we did it. 9/11 we did it. You had all sorts of naysayers after 9/11. Oh, we're not going to be able to recover. Yeah, those weren't the real New York voices. We got up and we got up stronger. "Well, the city's going through a tough time." Yes, the city's going through a tough time. It's gone through tough times in the past, and we recovered and we came back stronger. New York City was bankrupt. Yes, we have a crime problem. We had a worse crime problem, and we managed it. 

You just have to think big and get past it. So don't think about New York reopening. I talked to all these governors all day long and they say, we're reopening, reopening. I say, I'm not reopening my state. I'm reimagining my state. Reopening means we're going to go back to where we were the day before COVID. There's no going back. New York doesn't go back. That was a year ago. We don't want to go back to where we were a year ago. We want to go ahead and we want to learn from what we went through and we want to reimagine what New York can be and think big, you look at this.

What made this city, what made this state, was audacious ambition. "I'm going to build the Empire State Building in the middle of the Great Depression. I'm going to build the longest bridges, longer than ever, Brooklyn Bridge, George Washington Bridge. We're going to build a reservoir system, 60 miles to get water from the Mid-Hudson." It was built on thinking big, and that's what we need again. Think big. What's a big project to reinvigorate the economy? What's a big project where we can show New Yorkers, look at this. This is who we are, and this is what we can do. 

Just walk through Moynihan Train Hall. I don't care if you don't get on a train. Just walk through it and it will remind you of who we are and what we can do when we get out of this state of paralysis, and political pedantics, and saying no to everything. Building a new Penn Station after how many years about talking about it? A new Port Authority Bus Terminal, how many years have we said this is a disgrace, but nobody did anything. New Pier 76, just another symbol of showing you don't have to dwell in apathy and incompetence. You can actually make something happen. New Belmont Arena. The largest green infrastructure program in the United States of America. 

What's the key to reimagining? First, public safety. Public safety, public safety, public safety, crime, crime, crime. All these people who are running for mayor, my two cents to New Yorkers, you're going to pick a new mayor, a mayor who can deal with crime realistically. Open up offices, open up businesses, reopenthe city. Not unless people believe it's safe. Reopen the Subways? Not unless people believe it's safe. And this is not just a conceptual discussion. How do you do it? What would you do? Would you put a cop on every train? Would you put a cop in every station on the Subways? We need change. What would you do with the bail reform laws if you think we need change? How do you build trust with the community once again? How do you do it? New York City just did a police reform plan. Just passed by the City Council. It was nice, it was helpful, but it was incremental at best. There is no incremental solution. 

And transit, and that's what we're here to talk about today. What made New York City and New York State was the transportation network that we built. Bold, audacious, and we did it. New York City region is the economic driver, right? It's not Manhattan, it's not Queens, it's the New York City region. And the New York City region is New York City, Long Island, northern suburbs, part of Jersey, partof Connecticut. That's the New York City economy. That's what makes this city work. It's not just people who live in Manhattan. I lived in a far away place called Queens. People in that far away place called Queens went to Manhattan. There's another far away place called Long Island. That's part of the New York City economy. Westchester, Rockland, Orange parts of Connecticut, parts of Jersey. They're all part of the New York City economy, and getting them in and out determines how successful you are going to be. You want to talk about audacious and bold, Long Island Rail Road, going out to the tip of Long Island, which they built to reach a ferry. That's why they built the Long Island Rail Road, to get out to take a ferry to Boston. But what the Long Island Rail Road did was it opened up Long Island. And you had two generations ago, people left Brooklyn, left Queens, they went out to Long Island. There were 37,000 people on long island. Today it's 2.8 million people. "Well, they live on Long Island." Yes, but they are part of the New York City economic region. And they're coming into New York City, and people in New York City are going to Long Island. It is the region that works. 

East Side Access is the biggest transportation project being implemented in North America today. It was an audacious idea, an $11 billion project connecting Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Station, but more, changing the entire regional transportation system. You have Grand Central, which goes down, call it two floors. East Side Access is three stories below the existing Grand Central two stories. That's the concept. We're going to build new concourses, beneath the existing Grand Central concourses. Four new levels, four passenger platforms, capacity for eight trains at a time, 24 trains per hour, underneath Grand Central. Not just underneath Grand Central. This goes from Grand Central, 42nd Street, to 49th Street. It is an underground development that goes seven or eight blocks underground. Just imagine that. There is no other terminal that does that. We're going to build under Grand Central, and then we're going to build north, seven, eight blocks north underneath at that level. Amazing.

Customers will come in. They arrive at a 350,000 square-foot concourse. The trains, to do this, have to transfer in Queens through what's called the Harold Interlocking. Don't ask me why they call it the Harold Interlocking. Somebody here would probably know the answer, but I don't. But the Harold Interlocking is the largest train intersection in the Northeast, certainly, and one of the highest volume of trains go through Harold Interlocking in Queens. So the idea is, the trains from Long Island would change tracks at the Harold Interlocking, and ndthere's a set of tracks that then go from Queens, through a new tunnel under the river and into Grand Central Terminal. This is Harold Interlocking. To do it, Harold Interlocking needed $1 billion in improvement. In truth that needed improvement anyway because it was so busy and so outdated. But $1 billion of improvements to allow the trains to transfer at that point to come to Grand Central. Today, we're announcing all the major construction is complete. 

Harold Interlocking, the tunnels coming from Queens, the concourses at Grand Central -all the construction is complete. We still have some systems work to do, electrical systems, et cetera, but all the construction is complete. It's going to open up next year. It brings back double the number of LIR trains into Manhattan. It means you can come into the east side of Manhattan as opposed to going to Penn and then having to come all the way back to the east side. It reduces the commute time by 40 minutes. You now have two stations that you can go into. When you put the east side access together with what we're doing on the Long Island Railroad second track and third track and new stations, it is redesigning the entire Long Island Railroad experience, which is very important because Long Island is part of this economy and making that commute work is vitally important. It also opened up a new train storage yard where we can save store 300 trains mid-day, so you don't have to block tracks with train storage, which is what has been happening.  

But it's not just here at Grand Central. It reduces dramatically the number of trains going into Penn, which first of all is a good thing because Grand Central is a much more pleasant experience than Penn right now until we do the new Penn. But reducing the number of trains going into Penn is very important because one of the major problems we have at Penn is we don't have enough track capacity. We don't have enough track capacity for Amtrak and Metro North as it is. Once you pull out the Long Island Railroad trains, you're going to build more capacity for other trains to come into Penn Station. It will also allow JFK. You can get from JFK to Grand Central in 40 minutes, which will be a totally different way to get the JFK. And remember, we're in the midst of rebuilding JFK. So just like LaGuardia, we're rebuilding LaGuardia with a train to get to LaGuardia, now you have a train to get the JFK in 40 minutes. And what we're doing at Harold Interlocking, it's not just New York City, it's the tri-state area. It's going to be the whole Northeast. 

The universal formula for success. You know what it is? Applies to any occupation. It is come up with a great idea. Step two, do it. One caveat: Step two is hard. This was very hard. Building nine blocks under the Grand Central hundreds of feet below the surface was hard. Building a new tunnel was hard. So it's in the doing, right? It's in the doing. I have a great idea. Let's build the new airport at LaGuardia. Great idea. Yeah. Now do it. I've a great idea. Let's rebuild JFK. Good. Now do it. I have a great idea. Let's build a new Tappan Zee Bridge. It's falling down. Talk about it for 20 years. OK, now do it. I have a great idea. New Penn Station. It's a hell hole. Yeah, OK. Now do it. East side access. Great idea. Now do it. And the problem is in the doing. And I want to thank the team that has done this.  

I've been through a lot of difficult projects. Building a bridge is difficult. Building an airport is difficult. This was probably the most difficult project to get accomplished. There have been dozens and dozens of meetings that I have participated in hundreds of meetings. Contentious meetings. Hard meetings. But like anything else, you want to get that stone to the top of the hill? It's hard. But I first want to recognize Janno Lieber. Janno has done an extraordinary job here. Janno, I've watched and admired for many years. He's not as young as he looks, Janno, you know. Janno worked for Ed Koch. He looks amazingly young. That's because he has very few miles on him. He has a very low-stress job, Janno. I worked with Janno in the Clinton Administration where he was in federal DOT. And then he came to the MTA and he took on all these projects that were stuck in the quagmire. 

It's very often that a government project, people almost just give up on it. It's too complex. It's too hard. And it just goes on forever. But nobody even thinks about completion. I'll walk into meetings on government projects, and I'll say, when do we finish? Well, we don't know. How do you not know? Well, we don't know. We have issues. We have problems. Janno has taken this project and others -L train, et cetera -and just made it happen and gotten it done. He also has a great team who is with him. You'll be meeting some of them today, but I want to recognize Rob Troup, Judith Kunoff, David Puza, Tim Mohrmann, Michael Pujdak, AmilPatel, Kim Trevisan, and Dennis Ferrier. Also, Erica Heckman, Paige Biancamano, and Mariam Khalil, Ashley Hanrahan. They're going to be with us on the tour.  

This is probably not only the largest in the country, but probably the single most ambitious and the most difficult. We're going to show you a quick four-minute video that's going to give you an idea. We're then going to take a tour of the concourse level. There will be a tour of the new tunnels that Janno is going to do. I've done that a number of times, Michael Aronson will enjoy that tour because he is a tunnel construction of aficionado. And he's going to see racked cables along the tunnel walls, and it is going to make his day. But the tunnels go from here to Queens and it's a totally different type of construction and it's quite an elaborate situation. 

Last point. Last time I did this walking update through the concourses and through the tunnels and into Harold Interlocking was with a gentleman named Jim Dwyer. Name's James Dwyer, and Janno and I did it in the middle of the night, one night. A reporter asked me once, why don't you go into the subways? I said, no, no. When you go into the subways with politicians, it's for photo ops. I go in, in the middle of the night when we're actually doing work and need to make decisions and get things done. But anyway. It must've been like one o'clock in the morning or something. Jim Dwyer, Janno and myself went from the Herald interlocking through the tunnels. This is about a year ago. And then went through the concourses and then we went over to Moynihan. And he, Jim Dwyer, for those of you who didn't have the pleasure, I mean, just an extraordinary journalist. An extraordinary journalist. He was at Newsday, he won Pulitzers and he passed away. But I was thinking of him today. And he said to me -one of the things he said on the tour -this this is amazing. Nobody knows this is here. It's a whole city under the city. But can you ever get it done? Will you ever get it done? You went right to step two, do it. It seems we can't get anything done anymore in this city is what Jim said. And Jim had a tremendous feel for New York City. He said we feel like we can't get anything done anymore. Can you get it done? James, we're getting it done. We're getting it done. 

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