Home PANYNJ Calatrava’s $3.4 billion hub slowing down WTC progress

Calatrava’s $3.4 billion hub slowing down WTC progress

by Benjamin Kabak

A $3.4 billion PATH station will serve as a symbol for poor infrastructure investment strategies.

Back in early October, when opined on the way we spend transportation dollars in New York City, I railed against the $3.4 billion price tag attached to the Calatrava-designed PATH hub at the World Trade Center. In the comments to that piece, Charles Komanoff urged me to find a cost breakdown of the design elements, and that week, I submitted a FOIA request to the Port Authority for that information. If we knew just how much the Port Authority is spending on design, we would have a better platform from which to view the project.

It’s now mid-January, and I’m still waiting on those numbers. I’ve heard from the PA a few times. First, they promised me my documents in November, then in December and now next week. It can’t be that hard to drum up an outline of the dollars being spent on construction of the steel porcupine vs. the dollars spent on improving passenger flow and transit capacity. But apparently, those aren’t figures the PA is too keen on releasing.

Today, in The Wall Street Journal, Eliot Brown provides us with a glimpse into the inner workings of the construction at the World Trade Center site, and it seems that the steel demands for Calatrava hub are slowing down the works and causing costs to spike. He reports:

Long beset by delays and cost overruns, construction at the World Trade Center site faces another potential snag: the financial struggles of the company responsible for erecting the massive steel skeletons of two towers and a $3.4 billion transportation hub. For months, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been quietly advancing money to the contractor responsible for fabricating and putting up steel for the projects, which include One World Trade Center, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company, DCM Erectors, has more than $700 million worth of steel contracts at the site. The firm has told the Port Authority that it is facing cash-flow problems in part because of the project’s complexity, and also because of the amount of time it takes for the agency to approve extra costs…

The company’s troubles speak to some of the larger problems with the site’s redevelopment, which is running billions of dollars over original budget projections. The transportation hub alone has a price tag of $3.4 billion, up from an expected $2 billion in 2007. DCM’s woes stem largely from the station, which features giant steel arches that soar over a large train hall, and the 1,776-foot-tall One World Trade Center.

According to The Journal, DCM apparently “underestimated costs,” which goes without saying considering how the cost of the hub is up 70 percent over initial estimates and could climb even higher.

At this point in the process, no one will stop the Calatrava Hub or save the money. This is, however, a severely misguided project that is flushing transportation dollars down the drain. Between the Calatrava Hub and the Fulton Street Transit Center, various government agencies will have spent nearly $5 billion to deliver litle in the way of transportation capacity improvements. For that money, the feds could have guaranteed ARC Tunnel overruns or built another section and a half of the Second Ave. Subway. Misguided priorities indeed.

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33 comments

Bolwerk January 18, 2012 - 1:35 pm

What gets me is how butt ugly that thing is. Billions$ for ego-stroking butt ugliness. All people really need is a platform, maybe a little wider than usual because of the volume. If it’s close to the surface, all the better.

I really wish Calatrava, along with Frank Gehry, would go out of vogue. The only thing you can say for either of them is they’re maybe a little less hostile to the New York skyline than al-Queda.

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Larry Littlefield January 18, 2012 - 1:46 pm

I agree. They should have just rebuilt Hudson Terminal. The tracks were still there, and used for the temporary station.

With all the fiscal crises going on, these vanity statements will turn to ruin due to poor maintenance.

Some of the station cost, however, is actually the cost of the grade-separated pedestrian passageways. Those will be useful.

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Bolwerk January 18, 2012 - 2:16 pm

I actually think the temporary station is kind of nice. It’s spacious, and it works.

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Andrew January 18, 2012 - 10:39 pm

The current temporary station is cramped as is in a terrible location. Are you sure you aren’t thinking of the previous temporary station, the one that opened up onto Church and had enclosed connections to the IND and BMT?

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Bolwerk January 18, 2012 - 10:53 pm

I haven’t used the WTC PATH I guess since 2009 or maybe 2010. Did it change since then? I seem to recall access from Church was pretty good. I had a friend in JC, but she couldn’t stand it and…moved to Bed Stuy. :-0

Andrew January 18, 2012 - 11:19 pm

The old station faced Church. The new one faces Vesey, a block or two west of Church. The change was around 2008 or 2009, I think.

Marc Shepherd January 18, 2012 - 1:46 pm

It’s a pity that this site continues to lump the Calatrava building and the Fulton Street Transit Center together. The merits of the two are completely different.

The Fulton Street Transit Center has numerous transit benefits, including: 1) ADA accessibility for the numerous subway lines there; 2) Numerous new entrances and station renovations; 3) Untangling what was an extremely crowded and un-user-friendly station complex; 4) A new connection between the E and the N/R at World Trade Center; 5) A new underground connection between the WTC site and the rest of the Fulton Street lines.

One could argue about the new headhouse on Broadway between Fulton and John Street, but the project is nevertheless, for the most part, an extremely useful one. The Calatrava project, in contrast, delivers (from a transit perspective) literally nothing that we did not have before.

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Benjamin Kabak January 18, 2012 - 2:03 pm

Would it be better if I said $4 billion of the total $5.8 billion being spent is wasteful? Based on most estimates, the Fulton St. headhouse is around half the total cost of the project. That still leaves us with one mighty expensive station rehab.

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Jason B. January 18, 2012 - 5:36 pm

I’m slightly inclined to agree with Marc here. Regardless of the head house, it’s more like a five-station rehab (2/3, 4/5, A/C, J/Z, R) fully ADA compliant.

I’m also wondering who will be paying for the 1 train station inside the WTC sits/mall when it’s finally time for it to be rebuilt. Is this going to be the MTA, feds, NYS, or the Port Authority, or a combination? I’m imagining a lot of the site is being built around the shell for the station and thus naturally incorporated into costs, but we’ve really heard nothing here or in the media about the 1 train at Courtlandt.

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Joe Steindam January 18, 2012 - 3:59 pm

And because of cost overruns with the entire project, the Dey street passage had to be narrowed and is no longer within fare control, as originally planned. This was absolutely one of the big benefits of the project, but wasting money elsewhere has forced the MTA to shrink it and eliminate the free transfer benefit.

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Larry Littlefield January 18, 2012 - 5:59 pm

I had written to suggest a grade separated walkway across downtown early in the post 9/11 planning process, and had suggested that it be outside fare control so that people would walk from Battery Park City to the Fulton Transit Center without waiting for a light or paying a fare.

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Andrew January 18, 2012 - 10:44 pm

Are you sure about that? I didn’t think it was ever supposed to be within fare control.

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Jerrold January 18, 2012 - 11:34 pm

And yet, the only part of the Dey St. passage that is already in use IS within the fare zone. It is the underpass that allowed the southbound BMT Cortlandt St. platform to be put back in service.
They don’t seem to be in any hurry to open up any other parts of the Dey St. passage.

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Andrew January 18, 2012 - 11:55 pm

The “new” 4/5 underpass is the other end of the same passageway.

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Andrew January 18, 2012 - 10:43 pm

As Ben points out, the headhouse is the most expensive part of the project, and it’s dispensable.

But, also, the complex won’t be untangled, because the BMT still cuts across the middle. It will be better than it is now, but it will still be a confusing mess.

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John-2 January 18, 2012 - 2:01 pm

Really, it’s the above-ground ruffles and flourishes at both sites that are the boondoggles, even if those are really what the politicians care about; the underground parts actually should improve the previous transit situation (and especially if PATH’s connections to the 1 is improved when Cortlandt Street finally reopens). And even if the wasted dollars were limited under federal law to only be used in Lower Manhattan, New York still would have benefited long-term if they had just used the cash to build out the future Second Ave. subway from Grand Street to Hanover Square.

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Jerrold January 18, 2012 - 6:54 pm

It’s the above-ground parts that Ben IS criticizing. And coming to think of it, this is the first time that I’ve heard Cortlandt St. on the #1 even MENTIONED in a long time? Why have they done nothing in the way of putting THAT station back? OK, they couldn’t put an entrance/exit in the middle of the construction area, but they COULD put one on Vesey St., just like they did with the current entrance to the “temporary” PATH station.

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Andrew Smith January 18, 2012 - 2:54 pm

Ben, you’ve probably added another $15 million to the cost just by requesting information. I mean, if it will cost $3.4 billion for something that, while large, is basically a steel-and-glass shell over a couple of underground spaces made of concrete, then clearly dealing with a dozen of your emails and sending you some paperwork would cost several million. Look at what you’re stealing from taxpayers, you bastard.

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Larry Littlefield January 18, 2012 - 3:49 pm

If a consulant answered that cost $300 per hour. If an employee answered, the overtime will add $thousands to the tax-free pension.

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SEAN January 18, 2012 - 5:13 pm

Yeah, but that bastard contributes to my favorite site.

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Jason B. January 18, 2012 - 5:39 pm

Hah

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Douglas John Bowen January 18, 2012 - 3:02 pm

Just can’t let go of the ARC project. I guess I can’t, either, since I truly believe it morphed into something roughly matching any “misguided” Calatrava effort. You score more points, with me at least, measuring this spectacle with the fiscal needs (and payback) of the Second Avenue Subway.

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Clarke January 18, 2012 - 3:13 pm

Cue a flood of “But that added ADA compliance!” comments…

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Steve January 18, 2012 - 6:57 pm

I would have loved to have had the money spent on the second avenue subway. That project is long overdue and 3 phases aren’t even going to be completed anytime soon, plus it’s really needed from midtown-downtown.

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Brian January 18, 2012 - 9:58 pm

3.4 Billion? most expensive fish bones ever

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Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog New York City January 19, 2012 - 8:56 am

[…] With WTC and Calatatrava Dogged by Cost Overruns, Port Authority Keeps Contractor Afloat (WSJ, SAS) […]

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lawhawk January 19, 2012 - 12:28 pm

Oh, and good luck trying to get that information Ben; the PANY is notorious about their FOIA requests and not issuing them in any kind of timely manner.

I work between both the WTC site and the Fulton Street hub projects, and use PATH daily. The current location of the PATH exit is at Vesey near 7WTC, but that’s the second location of the ‘temporary’ station. The first temporary PATH station exited onto Church across from the Millennium Hilton/St. Paul’s Cemetery. It opened in November 2003 and cost $350 million. Additional money was then spent to relocate the headhouse to permit construction along Church and for the final Calatrava design. That’s why the PATH station lets out on to Vesey at present near 7WTC. The station platforms are going to stay in essentially the same location, but they’ve already moved PATH hill twice (the bank of escalators to take crowds from the street level to the mezzanine level one level above the platforms).

The original price tag on the PATH hub was $2.2 billion. It’s now over $3.4 billion – and any effort to contain costs has gone out the window over the years. One of the ways that they looked to reduce costs was to reengineer some of the underground truss work but the costs keep rising anyways.

The PANY could have reduced costs – either at the outset or ongoing, by installing 3-tracks and 2 platforms, but instead opted to rebuild with 5 tracks and 3 platforms. They then demolished one platform and closed two tracks so that only 3 tracks are used for service. As they build out the station, they’ll likely shift service around but it made little sense to build the additional capacity only to demolish it. Waste aplenty.

BTW those figures ($2.2 billion or the $3.4 billion) don’t include the cost for the temporary station either as far as I can figure.

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lawhawk January 19, 2012 - 12:37 pm

Oh, and another thought – the recent PANY toll hike? That’s supposed to generate roughly $1.2 billion to cover costs for raising the Bayonne Bridge, GWB upgrades/replacement of suspenders, PATH facility upgrades, and other work.

That $1.2 billion roughly corresponds with the $1.2 billion cost overrun for the Calatrava hub.

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Today’s Headlines | Body Local NYC January 19, 2012 - 2:52 pm

[…] With WTC and Calatrava Dogged by Cost Overruns, Port Authority Keeps Contractor Afloat (WSJ, SAS) […]

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Al D January 19, 2012 - 2:59 pm

I thought that FOIL requests have a deadline. How can they keep delaying?

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JB January 20, 2012 - 4:23 pm

I didn’t realize Calatrava was responsible for the cost overruns of a project his office no longer supervises on a construction basis.

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Jon February 13, 2012 - 6:14 am

I think that a lot of people are missing the point here. The issue isn’t paying attention to design, it’s the absolutely outrageous cost of construction in New York compared with pretty much any other place on earth. These prices just aren’t reasonable, particularly for a relatively small project.

I have read claims that New York is somehow exceptional in its decision to pay attention to design in recent transit projects. If anything, these stations are spartan compared to the present standard in Europe and Asia. Rather than comparing with 70s projects like Chatelet, take a brief look at Lyon Saint-Exupery station, Lisbon Oriente station, Lille Europe station, Liege-Guillemins station, Madrid Atocha station (complete with indoor jungle), Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Stuttgart 21, Antwerp Centraal, and Canary Wharf tube station. All of them are huge, artistic projects that are far larger than the PATH terminal and have cost far less. The ultra-cheap Bilbao Metro’s stations were all designed by starchitect Norman Foster. Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. I think you’re aiming at the wrong target when it comes to New York’s cost overruns.

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Streetsblog New York City » Honoring the Tappan Zee, and Other Highlights From the RPA Assembly April 19, 2013 - 5:07 pm

[…] who are very concerned, with good reason, when they look at the Trade Center site,” where the $3.4 billion WTC PATH hub adds no meaningful expansion to transit capacity. The difference with Penn Station, he said, is […]

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