The WTC PATH Train Hub is nestled amidst the hustle and bustle of Lower Manhattan. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)
At the risk of, as I put last night, tilting at windmills, I’d like to re-revisit the PATH Hub, and David W. Dunlap’s Times article on the many ways in which this project has gone wrong. In yesterday’s post, I framed it again, as I’ve done many times, as a project plagued by a starchitect’s ego. In my view, he ran rough-shod over a sloppy political process, and an agency beset with leadership problems. That’s not far incorrect, but it’s not the issue facing the World Trade Center PATH Hub.
The rust I focused on last night probably isn’t rust; the fireproofing wasn’t necessarily the fault of the person who sketched out a vision too grand for a subway stop. In the end, I’ve likely been too hard on Calatrava, if that’s possible, while giving the political drivers a pass. So let’s look again at some gems from Dunlap’s article.
We start with George Pataki. He was actually the governor when this crazy saga began. That’s how long it’s taken to build this thing!
George E. Pataki, a Republican who was then the governor of New York, was considering a run for president and knew his reputation would be burnished by a train terminal he said would claim a “rightful place among New York City’s most inspiring architectural icons.” He likened the transportation hub to Grand Central and promised — unrealistically — that it would be operating in 2009.
But the governor fully supported the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s desire to keep the newly rebuilt No. 1 subway line running through the trade center site, instead of allowing the Port Authority to temporarily close part of the line and shave months and hundreds of millions of dollars off the hub’s construction. That, however, would have cut an important transit link and angered commuters from Staten Island, a Republican stronghold, who use the No. 1 line after getting off the ferry. The authority was forced to build under, around and over the subway line, at a cost of at least $355 million.
It’s unclear as well how much additional time building around over the subway line took, but I sometimes wonder if that argument is a spurious one. Considering how long it’s taken to build, there’s no way anyone could have survived politically with 1 train service to South Ferry out of commission for so long.
How about Bloomberg?
Michael R. Bloomberg, who was then the mayor, demanded in 2008 that the memorial be completed by the attack’s 10-year anniversary. That meant part of the hub’s roof, which would be the decking under the memorial plaza, had to be built first, adding about $75 million to the budget.
And how about the Port Authority?
A 2005 construction contract was supposed to set a guaranteed maximum price, but to accelerate the work, several expensive subcontracts were approved. And in 2008, the authority rejected money-saving suggestions worth over $500 million.
And the security state from the post-9/11 mindset so pervasive in the early 2000s?
And there were many hitches. The Bloomberg administration upended the project in 2005, when a Police Department security assessment compelled significant revisions. To improve blast resistance, the Oculus had to have twice the number of steel ribs. The birdlike structure began to resemble a stegosaurus.
And that pesky problem of leadership churn that has rendered the Port Authority impotent and ineffective for the better part of a decade?
Consistent direction was rendered almost impossible by constantly changing leadership: four New York governors who appointed five executive directors of the authority, and five New Jersey governors who appointed four chairmen. Complicating matters even more, different projects were undertaken within inches of one another at ground zero. For a time, a plastic tarp was all that separated the hub from the National September 11 Memorial Museum. Contributing to the bloat in the budget was the authority’s practice of using it as a catchall for any related work performed on abutting sites, on common passageways and on shared mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems — over $400 million in all…
The authority did move to trim costs in 2008 by reducing the size of the Oculus and eliminating the movable roof. Still, it rebuffed suggestions from independent engineers and architects that the Oculus be even smaller, that parts of the temporary station be reused and that columns, rather than a bridgelike structure, carry the No. 1 subway line through the hub’s interior.
There’s more in Dunlap’s story, and if you didn’t read it last night, read it tonight. In a way, Santiago Calatrava is a red herring, though Dunlap’s story traces how his demands too helped contribute to the problem. This is about the faulty political process and the politicalization of the Port Authority, and again, I ask if we’ve learned anything. When the Hub opens, Shiny New Toy Syndrome will push the cost problem into the background, and we’ll forget how, even at $2 billion, this thing was overpriced. What comes next?