While in Lower Manhattan for the opening of the Fulton St. Transit Center in early November, I had a few minutes to wander around the much-transformed area. As I strolled over to the World Trade Center site, I couldn’t help but notice Santiago Calatrava’s PATH Hub. It looms above the area, piercing the sky in a rather impressive way. If you don’t know anything about the price tag or tortured history of the project, you would be right to marvel at this structure. But there’s something odd about it: Not even open to the public yet, its visible joints are already rusting.
In the various renderings of the $4 billion structure, the joints were neither visible nor rusting, and I wondered if this were part of the plan or not. And then, out come David W. Dunlap’s in-depth look at the PATH Hub with this gem at the end:
What did nearly $4 billion buy? Certainly an arresting structure, but one whose details do not match the shimmering images that Mr. Calatrava used to seduce officials a decade ago.
For instance, the ribs of the mezzanine looked sleek as silk in the renderings but in reality have the texture of stucco because of a fire-protective coating. Asked in March why no one had smoothed the surfaces, Mr. Calatrava’s office answered, “The client was not prepared to spend the additional money.”
That’s right: After falling to meet his already-lofty budget by nearly 100 percent, Calatrava tried to milk more money out of the Port Authority. If that’s not symbolic of the entire project, I don’t know what is.
This anecdote aside, Dunlap’s profile of this project is well worth the read. He delves into the spurious numbers that supported a big expense on a subway station and tracks the lack of leadership at the Port Authority as no one was in a position to stop project costs from spiraling out of control. Somehow, the PA expects 160,000 PATH riders per day, a jump of four times the current daily ridership, and it’s not clear how or where this number originates as the $3.7 billion station included no money for additional service. Here’s a key excerpt:
The price tag is approaching $4 billion, almost twice the estimate when plans were unveiled in 2004. Administrative costs alone — construction management, supervision, inspection, monitoring and documentation, among other items — exceed $655 million. Even the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is developing and building the hub, conceded that it would have made other choices had it known 10 years ago what it knows now. “We would not today prioritize spending $3.7 billion on the transit hub over other significant infrastructure needs,” Patrick J. Foye, the authority’s executive director, said in October.
The current, temporary trade center station serves an average of 46,000 commuters riding PATH trains to and from New Jersey every weekday, only 10,000 more than use the unassuming 33rd Street PATH terminal in Midtown Manhattan. By contrast, 208,000 Metro-North Railroad commuters stream through Grand Central Terminal daily. In fact, the hub, or at least its winged “Oculus” pavilion, could turn out to be more of a high-priced mall than a transportation nexus, attracting more shoppers than commuters…
But whatever its ultimate renown, the hub has been a money-chewing project plagued by problems far beyond an exotic and expensive design by its exacting architect, Santiago Calatrava, according to an examination based on two dozen interviews and a review of hundreds of pages of documents. The soaring price tag has also been fueled by the demands of powerful politicians whose priorities outweighed worries about the bottom line, as well as the Port Authority’s questionable management and oversight of private contractors.
Read through the whole piece as Dunlap finds fault with then-Gov. George Pataki’s plans, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s meddling and the Port Authority’s inability to lead. It’s a sobering look at a flawed project.
At this point, I’ve written extensively about the wasteful spending we’ve seen in the PATH Hub, and I’m almost tilting at windmills. It’s likely that the mall will offset some of the costs, but it’s clear maintenance expenditures will be far higher than they should be. As the Port Authority gears up to invest a lot of money into our region’s airports, we can wonder how we could have better used these dollars, but the key is to learn from this mistake. If we can’t, we’ll be doomed to repeat it — at Moynihan Station perhaps or elsewhere — and that’s something the region, with its myriad transportation needs, simply cannot afford.