Home Fulton Street Fulton St. Hub rescued by stimulus billions

Fulton St. Hub rescued by stimulus billions

by Benjamin Kabak

The dome has been saved! Long live the dome!

Rejoice, all ye Lower Manhattanites! The Dome of Fulton Street has been saved by stimulus cash heading the MTA’s way straight from Congress.

Finally, after an eternity of delays, hundreds of millions in cost overruns and 15 months of “we’ll decide next month,” the MTA can finally see a very faint glimmer of light at the end of the Fulton St. tunnel. To think, just three days ago, I was bemoaning the fact that this project will be well over half a decade late if it ever gets completed. It’s still going to wrap up late, but at least, there’s money for it again.

Anyway, joyous sarcasm aside, this is good news for the MTA. According to the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander, New York’s transit authority stands to gain between $1.5-$2 billion from the stimulus, and $500 million of that will head to Fulton St. Nearly William Neuman has the story:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to spend $497 million in federal economic stimulus money to complete the stalled and over-budget Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan, the agency’s executive director said on Thursday. The money would bring the project’s cost to as much as $1.4 billion, nearly double what was estimated when it was conceived in the wake of the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

The additional financing would allow the authority to move ahead with plans to erect an architecturally dramatic glass building atop the transit hub, said Elliot G. Sander, the authority’s executive director. However, it was not clear if the final design would include the project’s signature feature, a conelike skylight, known as an oculus, that would channel daylight into the lower areas of the station. Mr. Sander said the oculus could add about $40 million to the cost.

“The pavilion has to be many things to many people,” Mr. Sander said, referring to the glass structure. “It has to be a building of vibrant design with as much new retail activity as possible.” He called it “a highly visible portal to a modern transportation complex.”

Originally, this project was slated for a completion date around now and a budget of $750 million. It will far exceed those expectations and not in a good way.

Meanwhile, we have to consider a few things — political and planning — to this announcement. First, Sander issued it while testifying before Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The Man who Killed Congestion Pricing again holds the keys to the MTA’s financial future. If he can shepherd a strong bailout plan through the Assembly, there’s hope yet. In return, Silver, long an ardent supporter of the Transit Hub at Fulton St., will finally get that hub. It’s a political tit for tat.

But on the other hand, I’m a little skeptical of this is a good use of stimulus money. While this money cannot go to operation budgets, couldn’t the MTA use $2 billion for the Second Ave. Subway? It is, after all, arguably a more important piece of the city’s future than a ritzy hub on Fulton St. Sure, they had to build something. Sure, they had to placate Silver. But that’s one expensive political bribe at the cost of better projects.

Either way, though, I can’t complain too much. This is an infusion of some much-needed cash to get a long-delayed project off the ground, and that’s good transit news.

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Joe G January 30, 2009 - 5:58 am

You are so right. This is a disaster, to spend the money on this (and rewarding horrible behavior) whilst general capital upkeep (and capital budget deficits) remain.

Benjamin – I feel like this is the worst type of result – what do you think?

noah January 30, 2009 - 7:23 am

I agree too, build the station, but don’t over due it with some dome when you could use it for more transit. And what about those poor businesses that lost their stores? I hope they got compensated well.

Niccolo Machiavelli January 30, 2009 - 8:01 am

This is a perfect example of the MTA as an institution being blamed for the skewed priorities in Albany. The “Oculus” is a tribute to Shelly Silver, nothing for the rider. It might make a grand gateway to Wall Street, we’ll see when it is done. But this is not the time to build monuments in downtown Manhattan and cut service every where else. No wonder the outer borough schmuck brigade opposes bridge tolls.

Scott E January 30, 2009 - 8:43 am

If I understand correctly, this money is essentially structured as a “gift”, not a loan, as in the AIG/Citibank/GM bailouts, correct?.

Any financial advisor, from the celebrities on CNBC to the serious, will tell someone who is up to their eyeballs in debt that their number-one priority should be to pay down that debt. The Transit Authority wastes millions of dollars annually paying interest on previous loans and gets nothing in return. If that debt can be eliminated, along with the expenses associated with carrying these huge balances, there will be a lot more money available in the future.

Now, I guess putting this stimulus money towards paying down debt isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t create infrastructure, nor does it create construction jobs. I’m not even sure what budget debt service falls in (I think it’s effectively capital costs which have been deferred into operational costs). But if there’s any hope for a savior to rescue this agency, they can’t be forced into paying for the decisions and indiscretions of his predecessors.

The best gift that someone could give the MTA is debt-forgiveness (at least to some extent). As anyone with a home mortgage knows, a $250,000 loan will turn into about a $500,000 obligation over the life of the loan, which amounts to a waste of a lot of money. Every dollar pumped into debt service is really worth more than a dollar, and the benefits are reaped year after year.

Phil January 30, 2009 - 8:45 am

An oculus would be nice, but I think id rather know how much time until the next train arrives… How long is the MTA going to take to finally get that going?

Marc Shepherd January 30, 2009 - 9:05 am

Any financial advisor, from the celebrities on CNBC to the serious, will tell someone who is up to their eyeballs in debt that their number-one priority should be to pay down that debt.

The stimulus money comes with strings attached. They have to use it on construction projects. Whatever you thought of the Fulton St. Transit Center, they can’t leave an empty hole. Something has to be built there. According to the Times article, it hasn’t been decided if the dome will still be built.

Scott E January 30, 2009 - 12:01 pm

You’re absolutely right, and I guess that’s the difference between an economic “stimulus”, which will give a short-term boost, and economic “sustenance.” This grant is intended to quickly lift the economy and the optimism of the people.

I agree we can’t leave the site as it is, but a modest (but large enough to for current and future capacity) head-house, with the rest of the above-ground space going toward a park or other private/commercial use would be sufficient, and much cheaper [see 14th St-Union Square]. The “Dome or No Dome” talk is petty — the “architecturally dramatic glass building” in the picture at the top of the page would look just as dramatic with or without it. I just think that it can be scaled down even more, and, long-term, there’s better use for the money. Somehow, someone needs to focus on paying down debt for long-term sustenance.

Boris January 30, 2009 - 10:18 am

Why is it that New York gets transit money only when disaster strikes? We’d have no new South Ferry station without 9/11, and apparently no nice-looking Fulton St hub without the recession. What happened to funding transportation in general, the way it’s done in the other 49 states?

Marc Shepherd January 30, 2009 - 3:45 pm

There is a long-standing formula that allocates to New York a fixed percentage of whatever Congress appropriates. Even before 9/11, New York was getting transit money. The problem is that, in relation to what is needed, Congress doesn’t appropriate very much. In part, it’s due to a preference for roads and airplanes that has dominated the Washington culture for decades. And by now the Federal government is far too much in debt to dramatically increase mass transit funding.

Robert DiStefano January 30, 2009 - 12:29 pm

This is good news! An empty hole would be a terrible thing for an area that is supposedly still recovering from 9/11. The economy is bad now and money should go to mass transportation which has always taken a back seat in this country. Europe has heavily invested in mass transit and one can take a train or a bus just about anywhere. No need for a car there unless you live in a very rural area.

Kris Datta January 31, 2009 - 4:15 pm

What I think they should do is spend the money on the Fulton St. hub as they would if it was still a few weeks ago and they were downsizing the hub. That means no oculus, and maybe even no glass building atop the center. That money could go to the SAS and ESA for more long-term benefit. I understand some of this stimulus money is also being used to fund the 10th Ave. station on the 7 line extension.

Older and Wiser February 1, 2009 - 1:31 am

No, this is horrible news. Half a billion more for what is, was, and always will be nothing more than a subway station. The MTA needs to scrap its entire capital plan, and start doing projects one at a time. You get funding for the next project only after you have shown that you can successfully complete the first one. And that first one should be the one started 70 years ago, the SAS.

Adam February 1, 2009 - 3:18 am

Half a billion….for a DOME? Meanwhile, you could spend it on, say, a station at 41st and 10th that would make the 7 line extension actually not a boondoggle (or similarly an extension to Chelsea Piers)? Or, say a third track on the SAS? There are lots of needs around the city for new subway lines (I could go into a list of how I would expand basically every existing line and add some new ones), plus there’s ESA for the LIRR (which alone is costing more than it should; it should just connect to the existing Grand Central Station (there’s like 152 tracks there already)), and some projects I though up, such as: a connection between the two main railroad stations, plus electrifying the Danbury Branch on Metro-North, electrifying the Oyster Bay branch on the LIRR, electrifying the Montauk Branch to the Islips, electrifying the rest of the Port Jefferson Branch, and a few new rail lines here and there. And then we have to ATO the entire subway system so we can get headways down, and put handicap ramps and elevators in stations that don’t have them. I’m not saying this should all be done immediately (there’s a better chance of us figuring out how to break light speed), but I’d think these would all be priorities over a friggin’ DOME.

Alon Levy February 1, 2009 - 3:19 pm

Let’s look at the GCT-Penn connection, one of the most underrated transit expansions in the area. It requires two tracks all the way from Penn Station to GCT; sharing tracks with the tunnels to Penn’s east will unacceptably reduce capacity. Let’s say that the new tunnels use 34th Street, and then run to GCT under Madison. This requires about 1.5 km of new tunnel. In Manhattan, new subway costs are about $1 billion per km; this is higher in the middle of Midtown, so a more realistic cost is $2 billion. I think this $2 billion is worth spending, but let’s not pretend it could be financed from canceling the Fulton dome.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » Will the stimulus save 7 extension stop? February 2, 2009 - 12:47 am

[…] the weekend, we learned that the national stimulus plan would finally deliver a transit hub for Fulton Street. In fact, the stimulus may save another faulty MTA Capital Construction program from a giant […]

lenny may February 2, 2009 - 3:11 am

the MTA collected 300 million alone from the veranzzano bridge last year. so how are they within a fiscal crisis?

Alon Levy February 2, 2009 - 10:12 am

For the same reason the US runs deficits even though its annual tax collections are in the $2 trillion area: revenues may be high, but expenditures are even higher.

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[…] Avenue Sagas reports that the stimulus bill, currently under consideration by the Senate, will rescue the long-planned Fulton Street Transit Hub and may provide the funds to add the canceled, but still […]

Despite reports, MTA mum on stimulus plans :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog February 4, 2009 - 2:18 am

[…] plans. Backed by statements by MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander, we explored the revival of the Fulton St. dome. Spurred on by idle speculation, on Monday, we contemplated the fate of the 7 line […]

For Fulton St., a deadline and budget but no dome :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog May 21, 2009 - 12:01 am

[…] at $1.4 billion or twice its original projected cost. And the hub’s dome — subject to much will it or won’t it debate — will be, well, something […]


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