Before the long weekend, SAS reader Jeremy sent me the above picture via his Twitter account. It is, as the caption says, a view into the Fulton Street Transit Center from 19 stories above, and it reminds me of the numerous photos of sports stadium construction that dot the Internet. Clearly, work has a long way to go, but the future $1.4 billion hub is quickly taking shape.
In its most recent update, the MTA still says the transit center will wrap in mid-2014, and the budget is still set for $1.4 billion. Even as the MTA struggles to keep the East Side Access project on schedule, it’s hard to believe it could miss the Fulton St. revenue date. After all, this is a project that was supposed to be completed years ago for $700 million, and it’s now talking twice as long and twice as much money to realize a glorified subway station amidst the streets of Lower Manhattan.
Every time, then, that I see images of this structure, I’m both impressed and disappointed. The Fulton St. hub will certainly be a pleasing addition to the downtown landscape, and the station rehabilitation at that location is a badly needed one. Yet, it’s a money sink. At a time when the MTA has to fight for dollars from Albany for capital projects that keep the trains moving, the feds are lavishing over a billion dollars on a glorified subway stop. This isn’t some regional hub that connects passengers entering and leaving New York; it’s a subway stop.
So what would I do with $1.4 billion? Adding a PA/CIS system along the B Division lines would greatly improve the rider experience. Pushing the CBTC program with more funding would allow for more trains at peak hours. Think about what $1.4 billion could do for the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway or how many basic station rehabs it could fund. The possibilities are endless.
Ultimately, the Fulton Street expenditure is a problem I’ve often highlighted. Politicians like to spend money on things that are living examples to their generosity. A Senator can’t point to a specific piece of equipment with pride when he or she starts to cull votes, but that same representative can discuss his or her efforts at securing federal dollars for a gleaming new downtown transit hub. The problem is that New Yorkers need more of those behind-the-scenes improvements that make the subways more pleasant or easier to ride. We don’t need a $1.4 billion subway stop at Fulton St.