Once more unto the WTC PATH HubBy
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the World Trade Center PATH Hub. Due to a variety of factors, the Port Authority is spending an absurd amount of money to design what has repeatedly been called an iconic train station — which happens to be across the street from another supposedly iconic train station — and serves only a subway stop for PATH. The WTC Hub isn’t akin to Grand Central; there is no connection north, south or east, and it serves 35,000 passengers per day, fewer than Jay St.-Metrotech or the 8th Ave. 14th St. station. And, at a time when the need to expand trans-Hudson capacity has never been more evident, the price tag for a station that does nothing to address the region’s needs has ballooned toward $4 billion. It is, in a word, a boondoggle.
Eventually, when the station finally opens and passengers traverse the underground mall, the rebuilt World Trade Center area, and the marble-covered halls of Santiago Calatrava’s station, the focus on this project’s flaws may recede. It may even become that iconic image of Lower Manhattan its promoters had hoped it would become oh so many years ago. But we will still feel its impact every time we try to get to Laguardia Airport or sigh in frustration at another New Jersey Transit or Amtrak delay caused by congestion in the one rail tunnel connecting Manhattan to the rest of the world. Priorities will shift, and the specter of the stegosaurus will loom large.
Elliot Brown of The Wall Street Journal has penned what is, to date, the definitive work on the issues plaguing the transit hub. It includes honest assessments on the costs and construction problems and portends a future of cautious design (and perhaps capacity-focused projects rather than buildings more akin to vanity affairs). “Did you need to build the $3.7 billion transportation hub to achieve the meaningfulness of the World Trade Center redevelopment?” Scott Rechler, the Port Authority’s vice chair, wondered. “In hindsight, I don’t know if I would have come to that conclusion.”
I’d urge you to read Brown’s full story. He delves into every aspect of the project — including the Port Authority’s wish, overruled by then-Gov. George Pataki, to save around $500 million by shutting down the 1 line south of Chambers St. for indeterminate length of time to effect repairs and rebuild the Cortlandt St. station. I’ll excerpt some key parts as Brown traces the history of a hub that was once to cost $1.5-$2 billion and open nearly seven years ago:
An analysis of federal oversight reports viewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with current and former officials show a project sunk in a morass of politics and government. Those redesigning the World Trade Center—destroyed by terrorists in 2001—were besieged by demands from various agencies and officials, and “the answer was never, ‘No,’ ” said Christopher Ward, executive director from 2008 to 2011 of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the project’s builder.
Why that happened is more difficult to untangle. The Port Authority, run jointly by the two states, has long been known for political infighting. City, state and federal agencies, as well as real-estate developer Larry Silverstein, also joined in. In public and private clashes, they each pushed to include their own ideas, making the site’s design ever more complex, former project officials said. These disputes added significant delays and costs to the transit station, which serves as a backbone to the bigger 16-acre redevelopment site, connecting the World Trade Center’s four planned office towers, underground retail space and the 9/11 museum, the officials said and oversight reports show…
The high cost has been attributed by many public officials to its ornate and complex design by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. His plans proved far more difficult to build than anticipated, the Port Authority has said, requiring, for example, the manufacture of enormous steel spans overseas. Even daily maintenance will be costly. A recently opened hallway has white marble floors where workers remove scuff marks with sponges on sticks. Mr. Calatrava, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
But current and former officials who worked on the project, a terminal for the PATH commuter rail system, said in interviews they believed demands, disagreements and poor coordination among the many parties working on the World Trade Center site spurred hundreds of millions of dollars in overruns.
The special requests and demands break down as follows:
- Michael Bloomberg wanted the memorial plaza open by the 10th Anniversary of the attacks. Doing so added at least $100 million to the budget as “a large swath of the underground terminal below the plaza had to be built without use of cranes or other large equipment. Workers had to move materials by hand.”
- The decision to maintain 1 train service through the site and build a supported box added another $300-$500 million.
- Complex underground connections added another $140 million to the price tag.
We don’t know how much Calatrava himself is getting for his design and engineering work. The Port Authority has, so far, yet to respond to Freedom of Information requests I’ve filed regarding these amounts. But it’s not an insubstantial amount, and, as Brown notes, upkeep costs for this fanciful subway stop will be plentiful.
So ultimately, we have a monument to Lower Manhattan for $4 billion and 35,000 passengers. We don’t have modernized airports or convenient ways to get there. We have transit capacity needs that go unfulfilled, and we have recognition that the WTC PATH Hub became more unmanageable than it should have. Let’s not repeat these mistakes in the future.