Home PANYNJ Inside the $3.7 billion PATH boondoggle

Inside the $3.7 billion PATH boondoggle

by Benjamin Kabak

A rendering of the world’s most expensive subway station.

Early last week, a Port Authority twitter accounted trumped the installation of the first above-grade part of the Calatrava PATH Hub. For the Port Authority and Lower Manhattan, it was a big moment. In fits and starts, the Hub has taken shape, and even though it won’t open for a few years, it’s finally getting somewhere. It’s an occasion worth celebrating, but perhaps a tepid celebration is in order.

Over the years, I’ve written skeptically about PATH’s new World Trade Center hub. It is a $3.7 billion monument to Santiago Calatrava that does little to advance transit access to Lower Manhattan. It doesn’t offer added capacity; it doesn’t expand PATH’s reach. It is, in essence, the world’s most expensive subway stop.

It’s almost flippant to refer to the PATH hub as an overpriced subway terminal even if that’s what it is because the expense and construction time have had a very negative impact on Port Authority’s other transit-related projects. With so much money sunk into the PATH station, other efforts have taken second stage, but until recently, we haven’t had a good grasp on the extent of the situation. That changed this week when Stephen J. Smith published an in-depth look at the PATH hub. He is, as expected, very critical of the entire project, and I will excerpt liberally.

We start with its cost and origins:

When the grandiose ambitions and the emotions of 9/11 met with the famously flush Port Authority, disaster struck. Mission creep, an inattentive governor and extreme politicization sent costs skyward, eventually outstripping even the record-setting resources devoted to it. Its wings had to be stilled and its supports thickened, the bird in flight devolving into an immobilized stegosaurus. The world’s most expensive train station, it seems, was not expensive enough to contain all of New York’s dreams.

For nearly $4 billion, most cities could build entire subway lines. Even the MTA, which frequently breaks cost records of its own, managed to build its Fulton Center hub, a renovation of five densely tangled lines, for $1.4 billion. Nobody’s subway tunnels cost more than the MTA’s, but even they could fund most of the second phase of the Second Avenue subway, from 96th Street to 125th, with that kind of cash.

The World Trade Center PATH station is actually not a particularly busy one. “No one intelligently could say that the level of design and architecture associated with it was commensurate with the level of usage,” said one former commissioner. (Like nearly everyone we interviewed for this story, he would only speak on the condition of anonymity.)

To make matters worse, the World Trade Center station doesn’t draw the traffic to warrant the expense. It is the city’s tenth busiest subway stop when stacked against the MTA’s own ridership, and no one is advocating for a $3 billion station at Lexington Ave. and 53rd St.

Beyond that, Smith tells the story of its funding: When originally proposed by Calatrava, the $1.9 billion price tag was a red herring. Port Authority and the feds came to terms on the grant before anyone knew how much the full project would cost, and the various stakeholders took advantage of the uncertainty. Site foundation costs are baked into the PATH Hub costs, and a lot of common infrastructure costs eventually foisted onto Port Authority “might not have passed the FTA’s muster,” Smith explains.

Port Authority had a chance to reign in costs. One of its heads, appointed by Eliot Spitzer, vowed to cap spending at $2.5 billion and had a plan that eliminated many superfluous elements to keep costs down. But, as with many transit expansion efforts in New York, this one too fell by the wayside when Spitzer resigned in the wake of his sex scandal. Chris Ward, Gov. David Paterson’s replacement, wanted to see accomplishments, never mind the costs. So Calatrava’s passageways and wings were retained, and the project marches ever onward as it becomes the world’s most expensive subway stop.

Are there lessons we can take from this? Of course, there are, but it’s not really about Albany oversight or better control over Port Authority’s purse strings. Rather, it’s a lesson that should unfold a few miles north at the site of what is currently Madison Square Garden. Pending a City Council vote, various city stakeholders seem serious about the opportunity to do something about Penn Station and MSG, and, for better or worse, that something will involve a new station house.

The mistakes of the World Trade Center Hub should not be repeated at Penn Station. If the city overhauls Penn Station, transit expansion should trump a fancy building designed by a big-name architect who wants to leave his mark on New York. We’ve spent far too much on buildings that do far too little to improve the region’s mobility problems, and that time should end. If we learn one thing from the PATH debacle, it should be that.

You may also like


Michael May 15, 2013 - 11:58 pm

I agree that a nicely designed building shouldn’t mask a failure in terms of transit expansion, but it sounds like you have a deep distaste for groundbreaking or iconic civic architecture. In your mind, is there any room in a transit budget to promote architecture and/or the arts, or should every transit structure be as low-cost and bland as possible?

D.R. Graham May 16, 2013 - 12:19 am

Are we even in the same ballpark. We are talking about $3.7 billion dollars! To add a sculpture above a train station that didn’t exist before? We could expand the Second Avenue Subway into phase 3 with that kind of money. No one has anything against architecture, but something like this shouldn’t come with taxpayer funding!

Marc Shepherd May 16, 2013 - 7:45 am

I think it’s safe to say that Ben is very anti-architecture: he was opposed to the Fulton Street Transit Center too, although he has been quiet about that one lately, because the PATH station is a much juicier target.

As Larry Littlefield points out (downthread), a lot of the $4 billion is for below-ground infrastructure that would have had to be built no matter what, or that is not strictly part of the station itself. But even if the above-ground part of the station was only a billion or so, it’s a lot to spend for a structure that doesn’t offer any new transit function at all. The Fulton Street project improved that station considerably, and wasn’t just architecture for its own sake.

D in Bushwick May 16, 2013 - 11:21 am

When you consider the MTA wants $600++ million to rebuild the South Street Ferry station, I say who cares what the WTC Hub will cost.
It’s a beautiful design and the current WTC designs are anything but beautiful. Corruption determines the final costs of everything in this town.
If this Hub had been built in Madrid, it would have been a fraction of the cost. It has nothing to do with how ‘special’ NYC is and the ‘special’ challenges that exist here. It’s all corrupt bunk.

AG May 16, 2013 - 5:50 pm

not only is it overpriced… but it’s ugly. Fulton St. was much more about function than this.

Nathanael May 17, 2013 - 5:33 pm

So, most of the money is for a big concourse leading from the 1 to the E/R/W.

Which is a good idea, except that the concourse is… oddly designed, and oval-shaped, so that it can have a stegosaurus on top of it.

I wonder how much it would have saved to make a more conventional hallway, a wide straight passageway with shops on either side. You could even make it double-tall, give it a balcony, and put skylights on top. It would have to have been cheaper than the stegosaurus.

The passageway west of there and under 9A is definitely worthwhile, and not overdesigned.

The PATH hall is reasonably designed and connected in a reasonable way.

It’s that stegosaurus which is the problem.

D.R. Graham May 16, 2013 - 12:03 am

Now while we’re at it we need to raze Herald Square to build a much grander 33rd St Station.

Jerrold May 16, 2013 - 2:38 pm

I miss the good old days of Gimbels and Korvettes.

vkristof May 16, 2013 - 9:07 pm

Yeah…but I remember the Gimbels passageway from the late ’70s AND I remember what shape Manhattan was in also…

John-2 May 16, 2013 - 1:11 am

At the very least, for $3.7 billion you’d think they would incorporate direct access to the new Cortlandt Street stop on the 1 and even the south exit for the Chambers Street-Hudson Terminal World Trade Center station into the project, so at least the mega-porcupine will have usefulness for MTA riders as well as for PATH commuters.

This again goes back to the fact that politicians like to be able to point things and say “I built this”. Pointing at a subway entrance just doesn’t have the cachet of pointing at a one-of-a-kind structure. So the desire to bull ahead with the latter even as price tags become embarrassingly astronomical, while shorting funds for far more useful underground improvements or system expansions goes back at least to Bob Moses’ days of loving bridges and deriding even tunnels for his beloved cars as tiled vehicular bathrooms. And since subways were held in even lower esteem, it explains why little new service has been added onto the area’s rail mass transit system in the past 70 years.

Subutay Musluoglu May 16, 2013 - 8:14 am

The PATH terminal will indeed have direct connectivity to the IND WTC / Chambers Street Station, the BMT Cortlandt Street Station, and the IRT Cortlandt Street Station. In fact, the station serves as the fulcrum for an extensive network of subterranean passageways stretching from the World Financial Center all the way to the IRT Fulton Street Station. Much of the cost of this continuous concourse is included in the $4 Billion, up to the point where it links to the start of NYCT’s Dey Street Concourse underneath the BMT Cortlandt Street Station, which of course is costed separately as part of the MTA’s Fulton Street Transit Center.

I have mixed feelings on this project – while I wholeheartedly agree that the costs are too high and that $4 Billion could have paid for a whole lot of other transit projects that actually create transit capacity, I do see it more than just a fancy headhouse for a plain old subway station. The PATH terminal’s roof is holding up a good portion of the overall WTC site, and the extensive underground concourse had to be put back in to replicate the connectivity to all of the WTC office buildings and retail / commercial spaces that existed previously. If anything, the expanded system will offer amenities that did not exist previously, in the form of a weather proof pedestrian network covering a greater expanse of Lower Manhattan than was in place prior to 9/11. The costs of this had to be assigned somewhere. One (or many) can argue if the PATH terminal was the appropriate place to place these costs, but one way or another, the PANYNJ was going to spend this money (costs overruns notwithstanding; this is a NY project after all, we couldn’t have it any other way).

If anything, the outrage of those concerned with the $4 Billion costs should go back and examine how the seeds of this situation were sown in the first year after the 9/11. In the rush to rebuild the WTC site as quickly as possible (in order to make a misguided statement of strength to the rest of the world) many poor decisions were made, which in fact created the struggles of the last decade and the very delays and ballooning costs that we are grappling with today. It’s very simplistic to place this on Ward’s assertiveness and Calatrava’s vanity. I would start with Governor Pataki’s hubris and ineptitude, enabled by a feeble PANYNJ Board, a useless Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and as usual, a misinformed and mostly apathetic public.

John-2 May 16, 2013 - 8:55 am

Will the MTA access points be truly interconnected to the main entryways via the same ground level entrances as PATH? Or will the passageways simply lead to access points outside the main Calatrava design? That’s what I haven’t seen any final answer on yet

Back in the late 60s, when the Port Authority built the original WTC complex, the PATH-MTA connections were perfunctory at best, especially in regards to the 1 train’s 24/7 fare control (the A/C/E connection at Church Street admittedly was much better integrated into the complex. based on the former connection to Hudson Terminal). If you really want to make the station something that will be experienced by all New Yorkers and not just for those headed to/from New Jersey, there should be 24/7 fare controls connected directly into the new terminal, and not simply linked via long corridor or via some high-entry/MVM turnstile.

Nathanael May 17, 2013 - 5:46 pm

I’ve seen the diagrams. Here’s how it’s supposed to work.

Where I say “elevators”, read “elevators, escalators, and stairs”.

Top level: surface.

First level below ground from west to east:

Southbound 1 platform (elevators up and down from here)
Tracks for 1 train
Northbound 1 platform (elevators up and down from here)
Balcony of stegosaurus (can walk at this level across)
Southbound R/W and E terminal (elevators up and down from here)
R/W tracks
Northbound R/W (elevators up and down from here)

The balcony of the stegosaurus is called the “Upper Commons” in the diagrams and allows walk-through from northbound 1 to southbound R/W or E without changing levels. (Though you do have to exit and re-enter fare control. How about a Metrocard transfer, MTA?)

Second level below ground from west to east:
Underpass under 9A
“East-west connector”
PATH “Hall” (elevators down to PATH platforms)
Passage under 1 train
Stegosaurus belly “Hall”
Passage under R/W train
Dey Street Passage
(onward to Fulton St. Transit Center)

The second level is called the “Lower Commons” in the diagrams.

Third level below ground is only open to the public underneath the PATH hall, and contains the actual PATH platforms.

The “Lower Commons” is a single, at-one-level path from the World Financial Center to the bottom level of the Fulton St. Transit Center. It’s outside fare control until it reaches the Fulton St. Transit Center.

Each of the subway stations is up one level from the main concourse, with separate fare controls. *Every* station will be accessible 24/7 from the “Lower Commons”.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 8:45 am

As pointed out many times… The 1 train stop IS PART OF THE HUB. Being built by the PA, in fact.

John-2 May 16, 2013 - 9:00 am

The shell’s already there, but since the station is only one level underground, the original WTC designers opted to put the 24/7 entrance into the wall of the plaza at Vescey Street, basically creating a ground-level headhouse distinct from the PATH stop.

The new station will also be just one level below what would be the street — does the new PATH center compensate for that via a 24/7 access point for both uptown and downtown trains? I’ve seen design conceptions of the tunnels, but not of the fare control area.

Subutay Musluoglu May 16, 2013 - 9:11 am

The plans I have seen show the connection to both platforms of the IRT Cortlandt Street Station to be wide open and seamless on the same level as the main pedestrian concourse. It will appear nothing like it used to. The connection to the IND is similar; in fact the PANYNJ is building it in a manner that ties it better back over to the BMT and thus the Dey Street Concourse. I haven’t seen those plans, so I’m not exactly sure how it will be achieved.

John-2 May 16, 2013 - 10:40 am

If that’s the case, it will allow for a far better inter-connectivity than the former maze (the old WTC mall, by the time it go to where Greenwich Street was, was actually at street level, but covered up by the elevated plaza. I’m assuming the new design, due to the 9/11 memorial being at ground level to the west, will place the mall level at platform level, one flight below the street, between Greenwich and Church streets.

But they’ll still have to have ADA access to the downtown platform, especially with the R transfer to Brooklyn now possible at South Ferry, as well as getting the connecting passageways under the IRT tracks to West Street. Not all of that can be directly part of the Calatrava building, of course, but at the very least you should be able to access the IRT, IND and BMT stations as easily as possible through the same street level entryways PATH riders will have.

BoerumHillScott May 16, 2013 - 10:44 am

The Mall will be 2 levels (plus space in 2, 3, 4 WTC), but in a smaller footprint, so total retail space will be around the same.
One of the goals of the huge hall is to get rid of the maze like feel the old complex had, and make all conenctions (transit and otherwise) easier.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 9:28 am

The shell was there. As part of the WTC Hub construction an entirely new support structure was constructed to support the old shell over the Path Station, which runs underneath the 1 line. The old shell is being demolished (including the platforms that were rebuilt back in 2001 but never used)

After the old shell is demolished the new station will be built and will be integrated with the Hub.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 9:33 am

And yes, all of this is happening while 1-trains are running through… One of the reasons why costs are so high.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 9:35 am


That’s a good diagram showing how the 1-line is connected to the Hub

John-2 May 16, 2013 - 10:47 am

Looking at that, it appears as though the Cortlandt St. platform will have it’s own dedicated level, with most of the activity either at the PATH mezzanine level or inside the street-level headhouse. But I am a little bit fuzzy, looking at the diagram, at where the connections to the downtown 1 train platform is going to go, since I don’t see anything leading upstairs to the platform from the mezzanine level. Bringing it in from upstairs would separate it from the rest of the PATH station and put it next to the 9/11 museum.

BoerumHillScott May 16, 2013 - 1:41 pm

The northbound side of the Cortlandt St. platform looks to flow into the second story of the mall the surrounds the Great Hall.
The diagram does not seem to show how the soutbound side connects.

It would be nice if there were maps of each level of the complex. I though I saw a high level on a year or two ago, but I can’t find it now.

John-2 May 16, 2013 - 2:47 pm

Northbound 1 will always have more embarking passengers, and being on the east side of Greenwich, connecting fare control into the Calatrava building should be fairly easy. But they do need to think about the downtown side as well, even if they have to drop a stairs/undeerpass and elevator into the PATH mezzanine level, because the southbound 1 does now have a Brooklyn transfer connection (even if it probably won’t be used all that much, with the R one block east at Church).

Nathanael May 17, 2013 - 5:49 pm

This diagram shows that the conceptual “levels” aren’t actually flat. The concept is still that the “Lower Commons” level will flow seamlessly from the WFC to the PATH Hall to the Stegosaurus Belly to the Dey Street Passageway, but there’s actually several less-than-one-story ramp/escalator transitions between sections.

Bolwerk May 16, 2013 - 1:45 am

To think, they probably could have just tied PATH into the underutilized Atlantic Branch with that kind of money.

John Paul N. May 16, 2013 - 4:15 am

…or create an AirTrain for La Guardia, or extend the JFK AirTrain, or contribute more to ARC which might have reversed Christie’s cancellation, or fund the Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel…

But I’m not pleased that the public cannot know which percentage of the funding was for aesthetics versus essential infrastructure. Could the $3.7 billion figure have also included the cost of the temporary stations and their related infrastructure?

AG May 16, 2013 - 5:53 pm

that’s exactly what should have been done. that would do more for lower manhattan than this “sculpture”.

John Paul N. May 16, 2013 - 5:03 am

The point in time when the bird in flight devolved into an immobilized stegosaurus should have been the point to review everything. Function went out the window, leaving us with this artifact. Should the “wings” be severely damaged in severe weather or other event, are we willing to spend money to rebuild them? If that cost is too high, we have indeed wasted too much on this project.

NYC strives to have the best architectural showcase, as do almost all other world-class cities. This project had the architectural requirement to blend in with the rest of the WTC site, and not officially to promote Lower Manhattan. If Calatrava was too expensive, which architect or plan would have been more appropriate? In the current system, the WTC/Hudson Terminal is the best location for PATH to showcase its system in New York City, other than 33rd Street had it not been built up. Coordination with the MTA is also not in the current PATH agency’s interest (although it should have been as two publicly-funded agencies and the shared location). So, long story short, while I’m so disappointed with the price tag, and I would have preferred a joint-agency building, I don’t question the motives for making the WTC station as grandiose as it will be.

I think I said once that once this thing is built, people will start to forget the costs. I no longer believe that, once I understood that other worthwhile projects could be completed with that money.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 9:30 am

For the record, the “Stegosaurus” price tag that everyone’s crying about does NOT cost $4 billion. The contract to built the steel, for example, is for $204 million, which, while pretty expensive for something that’s just there to look good, is a tiny fraction of the full price tag. There’s also glass and skylights but those are all minute costs.


John Paul N. May 16, 2013 - 4:37 pm

Appreciate pointing out that figure. Since the PATH rebuild is as much a project to construct a symbol as it is a capital project, it’s easy for the media (not necessarily including Ben) to get caught up and to spread the sensationalism that stems from the outdoor structure, which in itself is intended to provoke a reaction. I admit I initially got caught up in it as well. One frequent commenter here would not hesitate to say that it is, to put in different terms as he would, as “orgasmic” as some other recent NYC-area mass transit capital projects.

In any event, the PATH station structure has become a symbol in perpetuity as it was chosen as one of the watermark elements for the new New York State driver’s license (perpetual in terms of the lifespan of the license’s design, to be specific).

Larry Littlefield May 16, 2013 - 7:02 am

I have no doubt that this is a boondoggle, and it’s not what I would have done.

But to be fair the author of the article pointed out that a lot of the money went to things that have nothing to do with the train station, but which are not accounted for separately. So it isn’t really a $4 billion train station. That’s for the foundation of the whole site, and the pedestrian tunnel over West Street which the author dismisses as a giveaway to the owners of the former World Financial Center but which actually serves all of Battery Park City.

There is no doubt that each component of the project was probably overpriced. But saying all the money went to the Calatrava vanity project makes it seem worse that it is.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 8:48 am

Ben just loves to sensationalize his headlines with exaggerations like that. The fact that this isn’t really a $4 billion headhouse has been pointed out many many times throughout the years, yet he persists to make that implication.

Larry Littlefield May 16, 2013 - 9:13 am

True, but as I said it is still overpriced. No doubt it was a contractor/union bonanza.

Were it up to me, I would have rebuilt Hudson Terminal and put the station underneath it. Just make the temporary station better.

But if some of this money went to stabilize the “bathtub,” well it had to be stabilized. And the pedestrian tunnel was worth doing.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 10:03 am

Its not just expensive because of unions… Its because its on the WTC site… Everything gets bulked up big time just because of what happened to the last WTC, and that impacts the costs significantly. 1 WTC is also the most expensive tower ever built, for example.

al May 16, 2013 - 2:21 pm

The budget for PATH Calatrava terminal includes a grab bag of many underground infrastructure components that the PA and NYC threw into the Federal and PA funding pot to cover for very high costs. They built an entirely new bathtub retaining wall on the east side of the WTC complex. They also turned the 1 train tunnel box and Cortlandt St station into a temporarily elevated structure for the PATH mezzanine/underpass. There is also the Mall that will be underneath the eastern half of the WTC site.

All of this was hampered by the site location, and the concurrent construction boom during the 2000’s that drove up NYC’s already high material and manpower costs. It was only recently that they went with a just in time model where they did as much fab work at the shop and shipped it to the site for installation. Its similar to what Ratner will do at Atlantic Yards.

David Brown May 16, 2013 - 8:42 am

The price tag speaks volumes of what a waste this project is. The most frightening thing is there are people who actually think that the “artistic value” justifies the cost. These are the kind of people who will not even use the Station, because it is “beneath” them. A perfect example of this is the Municipal Art Society, who believes the recreating the original Penn Station in the 2030’s is a correct allocation of resources. It is like they have not learned anything from this project. Will the Station be considered a masterpiece in 50 years or more? Perhaps, I am not an expert in art ( in fact, it was my worst subject (art in High School was tougher on me than College Calculus)). But I know that Economics is the ” Study of scare resources and how best to allocate them.” The key words being scarce and allocate, and this project does not even come close to accomplishing this. I do not think that this will prevent the Second Ave Subway ( Phases 2 & 3) from being built (The East Side Access and heavy level of construction projects on 1st & 2nd Ave’s are clues to this ( if developers did not think it would happen, they would not invest to the level they are there. Same applies to the changes on East 14th st (almost everything between Ave’s A& C on the south side is coming down so high end housing and retail can be erected)).. But speaking of 14th st, perhaps the (L) could have been expanded down to the World Trade Center, or up to 34th st, either of which (especially the former), would have done wonders for the West Side, ( a much better allocation of resources than than white elephant).

AG May 16, 2013 - 5:59 pm

talk of the Municipal Art Society… as someone pointed out… the money couldn’t even be found before to remake Farley which was much cheaper (and which MSG AGREED to go to)… yet they think there will be money to demolish MSG and recreate the old Penn.

lawhawk May 16, 2013 - 8:57 am

The money that has been sunk into the WTC hub could have gone to extending PATH to EWR. It could have been used towards any number of existing projects on its plate without having to raise fares/tolls, or used towards improving infrastructure at any of the area airports.

It’s not simply being against architecture. It’s about value and getting costs in line with benefits. The Port Authority wanted signature architectural elements, and they brought in Calatrava, whose projects have a history of being spectacular as art, but spectacularly over-budget. The number of users simply doesn’t justify the massive amount of spending (even if a significant portion is going to infrastructure for the mall, foundation work for the remainder of the podium/skyscrapers, etc.)

The attempts to curb the costs went by the boards as the need to show work done ahead of the 10th anniversary. The Port Authority will justify the work once the PATH hub is tied into the Fulton Transit hub complex via the Dey Street corridor and the East/West Connector with the WFC.

Yana May 16, 2013 - 9:48 am

For one, I wish you would have elaborated on why the MTA so often breaks cost records, but I guess that would have, to a certain extent, defeated your point (most cities building subway lines are not located on a very densely populated island).

As for being just the tenth busiest subway stop, with 12 subway lines plus a non-trivial number of PATH tracks, as well as an average daily MTA ridership of 5,380,184, I would not go so far as to claim, “the station does not draw the traffic to warrant the expense.” Perhaps not $4 billion dollars worth, but downtown Manhattan needs its Atlantic Ave/Times Square station. The traffic is there and it will only grow as the area further develops.

Ultimately, your argument sounds a little bit sensationalist in the sense that a lot of accusations are thrown around with not nearly enough hard facts to support them. Strong convincing arguments needs strong facts to back them up. I guess if your whole argument centers around the excessive cost of the architecture of this station, then fine, but you should recognize the spatial uses of this station and really research the impact it will have before claiming it is a “debacle” and “does little to advance transit access to Lower Manhattan.”

Benjamin Kabak May 16, 2013 - 9:53 am

Lower Manhattan has its Atlantic Ave./Times Square station. It’s called Fulton St. It’s getting its own $1.4 billion makeover, and it connects eight subway lines. The Fulton St. station — which is not the PATH train, despite your claim of 12 subway connections — is a completely different project built by an entirely different agency.

I’d love to hear your argument how this PATH project advances transit access to Lower Manhattan. It doesn’t provide for extra trans-Hudson capacity; there are no plans to increase train frequency; and PATH isn’t being integrated into the city’s subway system or expanded.

BoerumHillScott May 16, 2013 - 10:07 am

The WTC transit hub gives below ground access between the busiest two transit stations in downtown (Fulton and WTC PATH) and the two largest office development in downtown (WTC adn Brookfield Place/WFC), plus creating and giving access to what will be the largest shopping mall in Manhattan.

I call this addvancing transit acesss.
From a purely personal perspective, I will probably save 5 minutes each way every day transfering between subway and PATH.

There are huge issues with this project on many levels, but you don’t make a good case when you oversimplify and speak in absolutes.

Benjamin Kabak May 16, 2013 - 10:14 am

$3.7 billion for underground access between two train stations. That’s some accomplishment.

BoerumHillScott May 16, 2013 - 10:21 am

Once again, you ignore the mall (largest in Manhattan, that will pay good rents to the PA for the life of the WTC) and all of the other below ground infrastruture requred, including infrastructure that suports the WTC memorial and restored street grid.

What do you think should have been done different?
If construction stopped with the temporary PATH station, there would be no WTC memorial on the footprint of the both towers, no below ground connections between WTC buildings, no connection between WTC buildings and PATH, the subways, Fulton Transit Center, or the (former) WFC, and no restoration of the street grid.
The WTC would be buildings surrounded by pits that the PA or its tenants would still have to fill with something.

I think the real story is how this project was horribly scoped, scheduled, implemented, and communicated, along with how expenses were allocated.

And of course, over all of this is the fact that all construction projects, and especially government funded ones cost so much more in New York than the rest of the world

AG May 16, 2013 - 6:00 pm

don’t count your chickens before they hatch… there is no guarantee as to the returns that “mall” will bring. NY is not a mall town…

SC May 19, 2013 - 7:22 pm

Why is our government in the business of building malls? How about they focus on transportation.

BoerumHillScott May 16, 2013 - 10:14 am

It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be if they renamed this entire project “The World Trade Center Mall, Pedestrian Concourse, and pPrmanent PATH Station,” becasue that is really what it is.
I think calling it a “Transit Center” distorts things.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 10:22 am

Don’t forget the 1 Train station. That’s part of this project too as I pointed out above.

llqbtt May 16, 2013 - 10:27 am

In reading many of the comments here with different ideas on how to better spend the money, it is quite clear that the region lacks a true transit champion in a leadership position with the chutzpah to pull off big projects.

Building a hyper-expensive station with no added transit benefits solves nothing. There is already a station in place that serves exactly the same function and has sufficient capacity to manage ridership. Actually, kudos should go to the designer of that station for designing such a useful station on a comparative shoe string cost.

Jeff May 16, 2013 - 10:37 am

The existing station doesn’t serve the same function as the permanent station will. It is barely adequate temporary structure built to minimum specifications and totally NOT integrated with the rest of the WTC site.

People need to get this in their minds – they NEED to rebuild the WTC station – and most of the $3.7 billion budget would have been spend regardless to get the WTC site running. Period.

Now could they have gone with a less ambitious design? Sure. But to suggest the savings would be anything close to $3.7 billion or even half of that is plain wrong.

BrooklynBus May 16, 2013 - 10:30 am

Just another example of how political payoffs and contractor favors come before the needs of the riding public. It’s projects like these that harms mass transit not helps it because people become reluctant to pressure politicians for more mass transit aid when they see how much of it is wasted on unnecessary embellishments that could have been spent in a wiser manner.

David Brown May 16, 2013 - 10:35 am

Ben has an excellent point which is about the Penn Station issue and what effect will the price of the Hub have on it? However, the bigger question will be how high will be the Interest Rates going forward? Keep in mind, that plays a huge role in financing major projects. Under Obama, Interest Rates have been at a historical low. You can debate if it is good or bad, that is not the issue, it is what it is and it will likely not change Until he leaves office in 2017. But what happens when they rise, and someday, they have to? The worst case scenario would be projects being started and abandoned (like what happened in the 1970’s, when tunnels were built that (at best), take 50 years to take advantage of.). I have no doubt that projects that finish before 2017 (like the Hub), will be completed, and as 2017 rolls around, those close to the end ( like East Side Access and Water Tunnel # 3), will as well. I even think the Second Ave Subway (Phases 2 & 3) will get done. Likely some kind of deal, where the Bloomberg requested Midtown zoning changes will be approved provided there are Municipal Bonds available for the subway. If I am correct, the low interest rates of today, can be locked in. But what about Penn Station? What will it cost going forward ( not to mention replacing MSG and in particular, the time frame involved)? Based upon the fact, it he Hub is billions over budget, and will take 14 years to be completed ( after 9/11), I do not feel the least bit confident in it being finished on time and not billions over budget (particularly when you get those with major influence, demanding to create another Hub construction project to “improve things artistically” instead of improving conditions for commuters)).

paulb May 16, 2013 - 10:53 am

I like the vertebrae above ground. I don’t get why it costs billions to build. More expensive than piling up some cinder blocks, sure, but it’s not fabricated from some sort of structural unobtainium, is it? Or is it?

Nathanael May 17, 2013 - 5:52 pm

Mechanical stress. Certain types of structures hold themselves up better than others. Those which don’t need all kinds of extra strong materials.

This is one of those shapes which doesn’t hold itself up well.

Nathanael May 17, 2013 - 5:53 pm

A perfectly rectangular “center hall” with vertical struts and a normal balcony — but still with skylights — would probably have cut the costs by hundreds of millions.

paulb May 16, 2013 - 10:58 am

I see Jeff answered my question in an earlier post. Never mind.

AlexB May 16, 2013 - 11:15 am

I think there are a number of things missing from the oversimplified analysis that this is just a wasteful vanity piece for a subway station that does not need it.

1 – As mentioned repeatedly above, a huge chunk of the cost of the station would have been required regardless for underground infrastructure work.

2 – Both the MTA and the Port Authority are not just developing subway stations, they are also developing higher end malls to provide ongoing revenue streams. Whether this is a good or bad idea may be discussed separately, but at least a small portion of the cost can be seen as investment that will provide a direct return.

3 – When this was first proposed, Pataki was in office. One of his pet projects was to connect Long Island and JFK to the Financial District by extending the Atlantic Branch of the LIRR to Downtown. The project died when he left office. I think a lot of readers of this blog would agree that it actually is a good idea in some form or another. I believe Calatrava was told and believes that his train hall will eventually be used for more than just the PATH. If the LIRR extension is brought back someday, having a huge train hall with enough capacity to absorb 50,000+ extra people will be welcomed as great foresight, not wastefulness.

4 – Every project downtown was sold not just as infrastructure, but as a stimulus and a symbol. Everyone at the time was on board with that approach and the federal government was supplying a large portion of the funds. Bad planning and time have eradicated that good will and blown through the money, but everyone was operating as though the sky was the limit and there were very few dissenting voices to the vision.

I still think the project is wasteful, but I wanted to point out there is a bit more too it than is described in this post and that article, which is a very good and welcome piece of journalism.

Alon Levy May 16, 2013 - 12:19 pm

Re 3, I have not read that the work on the PATH WTC station reserved space for an LIRR station. The most expensive part of such a project would be finding space underground for a station, and in some parts of the world they do reserve space. The Fukutoshin Line went deeper than it would’ve otherwise needed to around Shinjuku in order to reserve space for a Shinkansen station in case JR East extended the Joetsu Shinkansen there down from Omiya.

Without reserving space in advance, not only is this not really future-proof in that direction, but also they can’t even know where the passenger flow will be highest.

AlexB May 16, 2013 - 12:48 pm

First of all, I’m not defending anyone for poor coordination and waste of my tax money. I’m just saying what I think happened and what might happen at some distant point.

It would indeed have been smart to reserve space, which they didn’t do. They never identified a preferred spot in Downtown Manhattan for the extension either. Regardless, Calatrava envisioned his station as a regional gateway including Long Island (he said as much in some presentations) and I don’t think that was coming from his office alone. Pataki was in office until the end of 2006, so I think there was hope for a good while that the extension would become a reality. Was there a design brief or program related to this? No. But if you think the PA took care to design the station appropriately relative to the number of PATH commuters, then you put way too much faith in them. If the LIRR extension is ever revived, it would likely be designed to provide a direct transfer into the PATH station hall. You’d be a fool not to. Would you really be surprised if they built another unnecessarily large ESA type cavern a hundred fifty feet below the Fulton Center and WTC PATH in about 20-30 years?

Alon Levy May 16, 2013 - 8:18 pm

Why would anyone bother with linking the LIRR to PATH? If there’s an LIRR extension to Lower Manhattan, then,

a) it’s probably cheaper to just tunnel all the way to Jersey instead of build a larger terminal cavern in Lower Manhattan,

b) at any rate, the primary train station is Fulton Street and not PATH, and

c) most LIRR passengers would be getting off at the station rather than transferring since Lower Manhattan jobs are within walking distance of the station.

As for the design, Calatrava did not design the engineering specs of the train station box. He may have designed the concourses for much higher pedestrian circulation (and of course for the importance of a station that doesn’t need to be there), but if there’s no reserved space for a train station, it’s going to be very hard to build one on a reasonable budget.

AG May 16, 2013 - 10:00 pm

as to who would want to transfer…. if ppl have the option – they’ll use it.
that aside – it’s not about connecting it to PATH – but to lower Manhattan in any form. The ideal would be if they all (PATH, LIRR, NYC subway) were connected in the area. Maybe in 30 years.

Alon Levy May 17, 2013 - 4:28 am

Yes. But transfer volumes from the LIRR to PATH are likely to be low, for the same reason transfer volumes from Fulton to PATH are low: it’s mighty inconvenient, partly because of organizational issues (no fare integration) and partly because the transfer involves a lot of walking between platforms. Even with uncrowded concourses the transfer penalty is massive.

To see how my own thinking about this evolved, compare how I thought about Lower Manhattan commuter rail in 2009 and how I thought about it from 2010 onward:

2009: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=203476880847786328265.00046cbdf95d3265a12c1&msa=0&ll=40.717144,-73.997469&spn=0.036496,0.084543

2010: http://www.thetransportpolitic.....il-a-coda/

Note that the Fulton cross was replaced with a Fulton tangent. There’s a method to the madness: cross-platform transfers are zero-penalty, transfers involving walking between platforms aren’t.

Bolwerk May 17, 2013 - 1:13 pm

Strikes me as over the top. PATH to Atlantic Terminal (and beyond) with a mere transfer-free stop on the east side of Lower Manhattan to expand PATH’s catchment area a little would give you almost all the benefits of that, probably at a fraction of the price and some lost transfer convenience.

Alon Levy May 17, 2013 - 6:12 pm

PATH is really hard to extend anywhere. The tracks are in a loop, and even the tunnels aren’t parallel but rather open up to feed into the loop.

AlexB May 21, 2013 - 6:22 pm

Your regional rail proposal includes miles of new tunnels under lower manhattan, but you’re saying PATH is hard to extend. Everything is relative, but if you are talking about adding extensively to the city’s transportation system, the difficulty of extending the PATH is relatively minor.

Bolwerk May 17, 2013 - 2:31 am

Pataki had a woody for a JFK<->Downtown connection in the early 2000s. They may actually have made some accommodations, but I’m not sure either.

AlexB May 21, 2013 - 7:25 pm

The whole point of what I said is to speculate on the motives of those involved and guess what they may do in the future. I agree with your statements. I don’t think that the Port Authority or the MTA make very intelligent decisions or put a lot of thought into the best and most effective ways to spend our money. If I had my way, the whole thing would have been done drastically differently.

All government agencies in charge of transit in the NYC area generally tend to do the following:
– Spend as little money as possible on most things that most people won’t complain about or see
– Move forward large and expensive single-minded projects that employ lots of union workers and have goals which can be communicated in a 15 second elevator ride, but which usually do nothing to leverage existing infrastructure in intelligent ways or spend money wisely

Chris C May 16, 2013 - 12:25 pm

“I believe Calatrava was told and believes that his train hall will eventually be used for more than just the PATH.”

He would have been working to a very specific design brief provided to him by the Port Authority. The brief would have been a substantial document and not just a ‘please design us a lovely station’.

The brief would specify a number of platforms of a particular length and articulation, ticket hall and circulation space of a particular size allowing for escalators and lifts etc and mall space of a specified size as well as the need for space for utilities.

Just as Minoru Yamasak was working to a design brief for the original WTC Towers to provide a specific amount of office space (eventually 10,000,000 square feet) rather than buildings of a particular height / number of floors.

It is not his job to put things in that are not in the brief. If the brief is wrong then that’s the PAs fault and not the architect.

If the PA chose the wrong design then again that’s their fault.

Jerrold May 16, 2013 - 1:46 pm

“…..a renovation of five densely tangled lines……”

Isn’t it FOUR, rather than five?

Unless you are figuring individual lines (2,3,A, etc.), but then it would be EIGHT, right?

John Paul N. May 16, 2013 - 3:35 pm

I would count the Dey Street connection (to the R) as part of that project.

AlexB May 16, 2013 - 3:43 pm

The Dey St tunnel, Cortlandt R train renovation, and connection the the E train are a part of the Fulton Center projects. The 1 train, and passageways to Battery Park City are a part of the PATH station

John Paul N. May 16, 2013 - 4:07 pm

That’s right. If I was to rewrite my comment, it would say: “I would count the Broadway line ( R ) and its Dey Street connection as the fifth line in that project.” [which should imply the Fulton Center that Jerrold was referring to.] As a long-time follower of this blog, I would hope, and I am confident, that he knows there are two concurrent projects.

[Glad to see the comment preview. If I remove the spaces to “( R )”, it autocorrects to (R) (R in a circle).]

John Paul N. May 16, 2013 - 4:10 pm

Well, that’s weird. After I posted, the registered trademark (R) symbol doesn’t appear. Maybe something to look at during the blog overhaul.

Jerrold May 16, 2013 - 6:24 pm

There sure ARE two concurrent expensive headhouse boondoggles, BOTH of which are NOT adding anything at all to our existing mass transit service.

Bolwerk May 17, 2013 - 3:37 pm

Fulton Street is at least a little more defensible. It’s useful to far more people, it is probably necessary to comply with a federal ADA mandate, the feds are at least mostly paying for it, and (the kicker) it actually does improve access greatly.

PATH though? Well, maybe it should have been part of the Fulton Project, but it definitely didn’t need to be a separate headhouse.

Nathanael May 17, 2013 - 6:01 pm

Actually, it’s justifiable to have a PATH headhouse. The “PATH Hall”, directly over the PATH platforms, is a good thing and deserves skylights (which it’s not getting).

The crazy part is building the stegosaurus over what is, essentially, a glorified hallway.

This hallway serves a similar function to the Dey Street Connector. Great! So make a nice, wide hallway with decorative tile.

Logistical reasons suggest that it should have a balcony level. Great! So do that.

Practicality suggests putting storefronts in either side of it, on the north and south. Great! So do that.

With the size, it would benefit from being high and open and having skylights. Great! So do that.

But then suddenly it became oval-shaped and had a stegosaurus on top of it. That’s a little odd for a hallway. And it raises the price of the hallway by a *lot*.

If you look at this diagram:

It’s clear that the headhouse belongs over the PATH Hall.

The Stegosaurus is in the wrong location for a headhouse. Remove the stegosaurus and make that section into a straight hallway, with two levels (a balcony at the upper level) and skylights, and you get a pretty nice result; call it an “Arcade”, perhaps.

Phantom May 16, 2013 - 7:23 pm

Does anyone have an idea when direct street level access to the downtown R at Cortlandt will be restored?

I know not soon but?

Light May 17, 2013 - 10:16 am

In the 5500 years of written history when a society deals with a disaster – man made or natural, they have a choice when re-building: they can do it better or re do what was done before.
Without exception, when a society chooses to “do it better” they thrive, when they don’t,
they die. It is the rule, I don’t want to see western civilization die.
While it is clear that the Occulus is a bit overdone and way expensive, it sends a very clear message to all of us – WE are here, and we aren’t going to succumb to barbarity.
This is why we must build the way we are re-building.

Bolwerk May 17, 2013 - 1:19 pm

We already succumbed to barbarity. If you want to send a message about reversing that, focus on building transit so we can relinquish at least some of our dependence on barbarian-financing oil. The incremental benefit of this porcupine monstrosity is close to zero.

Brian R May 20, 2013 - 3:17 pm

On one of the intial comments, I don’t think Ben hates architecture, just asking what are we really paying for.

Coney Island Terminal is beautiful, but also functional, (solar panels for example). I actually liked the temporary PATH entrance on Church Street; it was open, nice, simple.

There are thing Port Authority could have done with that money, (that may have also increased ridership). Journal Square could have been improved, (the bike rack and bus ramps can be seriously crowded). The monorail could have been extended from Newark-Liberty to Newark Penn Station, (currently, you have to take NJTransit bus to get to the airport, how many more Would take PATH if it were as easy to get to Newark-Liberty?)

There are times for beautiful architecture, but in this case, for One station, when the whole system needs iimpovements, I can see where people would be annoyed.

AG May 20, 2013 - 5:34 pm

I agree… especially about Coney Island. Another good example is the recently completed refurbishment of the East 180th St. station in the Bronx. It was beautifully done – and for relatively little money. Of course the WTC station is a different beast… but it is still “over-done”.
As to the extension of the PATH to Newark Airport… they did announce last year they allocated money to “study” it. You’re right – it should have been done.

barry May 28, 2013 - 2:22 am

I used to take the PATH from WTC in the 1980s. It was a clean, functional terminal. Certainly no place to hold wedding receptions but well lit, informative, real-time signage and fast access to the trains.

There were two or three bars right before the stairs to the train platforms along with large restrooms.

You had to walk but there was indoor access to 1,2,3,N,E trains.

Surely, that functionality could have been replicated for a fraction of the funds spent so far.

AG May 28, 2013 - 8:06 pm

funny you mention weddings because last week there was a story in the media that now there is talk that the station will be used as a special events venue to earn revenue. i think it’s ridiculous.


Leave a Comment