Home PANYNJ This is why we can’t have (more) nice things

This is why we can’t have (more) nice things

by Benjamin Kabak

Nice hallway. (Photo via flickr user Noel Y.C.)

Do you see that photo atop this post? It’s a very nice photo of a very nice hallway, and unfortunately, I have’t had the opportunity to check out this hallway on my own yet. The hallway, you see, is the first major part of Santiago Calatrava’s PATH hub to open in Lower Manhattan, and it may be the world’s most expensive hallway.

The corridor — the so-called World Trade Center West Concourse — reopened for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks toward the end of October. It provides an underground walkway beneath the West Side Highway from the PATH station to the Brookfield Place Pavilion and the ferry terminal. No longer will pedestrians have to cross over the Vecsey Street bridge; rather, they can use this gilded underground walkway instead. Eventually, this marble-lined passageway will connect to the PATH terminal and the east corridor, but the PATH building won’t be fully completed until 2015.

“The World Trade Center will be more than a place to work or visit,” Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said in a statement. “This will also be an unparalleled destination in a premier business location in the heart of a world-class city. This vital connection is another major step toward fulfilling our vision of creating a vibrant, dynamic and transit-oriented World Trade Center site.”

So how much does this passageway cost? As Stephen Smith, now writing for Next City, found out earlier this week, the price tag on what amounts to an underground corridor was “approximately” $225 million. Smith notes that for the same amount of money, some European cities can build subway stations and a few kilometers of tunnels, but in New York, $225 million nets an ornate walkway of a few hundred feet. When nothing else gets built after the PATH train, East Side Access and the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway all see the light of revenue service, this will be why.

Smith offers up a short history lesson as well on the $4.5 billion PATH hub. It was all, he writes, Eliot Spitzer’s fault:

The station and passageway were designed by budget-busting starchitect Santiago Calatrava, and narrowly escaped a cost-cutting attempt back in 2008. Eliot Spitzer’s Port Authority chief, Anthony Shorris, wanted to scrap the elaborate underground elements of the subway station — including this passageway, as well as others that have yet to open — in an effort to keep the project within its then-budget of around $2.5 billion. But Spitzer’s prostitution scandal forced him to resign, and when David Paterson assumed office, he and his Port Authority chief were more concerned with opening the World Trade Center memorial by the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The cost-cutting plan went out the window.

I’ve said a lot over the years about the excesses of the Calatrava PATH Hub and the need for Port Authority oversight and a realignment of spending priorities. Nowhere, though, is this point more obvious than in this hallway. Someone, somewhere decided that a quarter of a billion dollars would be best spent in an underground passageway that runs for a few hundred feet under a road that’s busy, but not that busy, to prove a point. When politicians and planners start to bemoan that it’s too expensive to build and that projects are too costly for New York City, remember this hallway for it is the beginning of the end.

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Miles Bader November 8, 2013 - 1:15 am

Lookin’ pretty meh (for a decidedly non-meh price).

I’m curious, how much did the politicians etc interfere with this project? In cases like 1WTC, there were significant changes for the worse due to everybody and his uncle sticking their fingers in….

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 1:56 am

I’m not so sure they did. It looks like it went on roughly according to how it was designed.

Sometimes, maybe they should interfere.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 9:59 am

“Lookin’ pretty meh (for a decidedly non-meh price).”

I took the chance to walk through there earlier this week. This corridor is about as far from “meh” as it gets. It’s an incredible space. I urge anyone with the time to go there to check it out.

Hallways R Dumb November 8, 2013 - 2:33 pm

It’s still just a fucking hallway and thus not worth the money.

There was nothing wrong with the bridge.

Eric November 10, 2013 - 6:09 am

Exactly. It’s beautiful. But it’s still just a fucking hallway and thus not worth the money.

Riley January 7, 2014 - 12:10 pm

Its not a hallway really, its a money making retail outlet in the making. (those panels on the right will be removed eventually and be storefronts).

Miles Bader November 8, 2013 - 11:01 pm

I’m glad to hear it’s better than the renders (and photo) make it look…

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 1:54 am

I always liked New York’s kitchen tile with mosaics interspersed in look. It can be a little grim, but it is simple and elegant.

Rapid transit does not demand that kind of space, in any case.

Roxie November 8, 2013 - 2:03 am

We spent $225 million on a hallway. A white hallway. With ribs for her pleasure. Christ.

Ron Aryel November 8, 2013 - 2:18 am

Agreed! For the money spent on the World Trade Center transit hub, PATH could have created a very useful and even tasteful and elegant station with simpler elements, and then extended the PATH WTC line past the World Trade Center to a new terminal (perhaps near South Street Seaport?). Other worthwhile projects would include making the 14 St/6 Av PATH station ADA compliant, making Christopher St or 9th St ADA compliant, making Grove St station ADA compliant, andmaking a down payment toward an extension of PATH to Newark Airport.

You’re right on the money with this one, Ben

Nathanael November 8, 2013 - 3:03 am

Heck, the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel could have been built with this kind of money, benefiting the whole of New England.

This is a pretty bad example of monument-building. The first moral is: Never hire Calatrava. I’m not sure what the second moral is.

Chris November 8, 2013 - 12:25 pm

Nathaniel –

I’d support the cross harbor freight tunnel too. But I really want more passenger tracks spanning the Hudson AND passenger tracks connecting Staten Island to the rest of NYC and to the mainland. (Note: I DO NOT live in Staten Island.)

With the above being said, I’d have prioritized the money they are wasting on the new WTC PATH station, and dedicated it to building a new PATH route across the Hudson, and linking it to the East Side of Manhattan. It would have cost even more money, but it would have closed out a few gaps in our transit network.

Lady Feliz November 8, 2013 - 12:59 pm

“Note: I DO NOT live in Staten Island.”

So what if you did? Staten Islanders can ask for nice things too 😉

AlexB November 8, 2013 - 1:01 pm

For a little over $200 million, you could maybe cover the engineering fees for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel. Maybe you could put a shovel in the ground. The total cost of that project would be about 20 times the amount of this “hallway.”

Spendmore Wastemore November 8, 2013 - 8:52 pm

Betcha the Chinese could build it for $200M.

They have most of our dollars already, may as well send’m what’s left.

Alon Levy November 11, 2013 - 12:36 am

No, not even close. It’s about 8 km of tunnel, which at Chinese underground construction costs would be $1.2 billion; but underwater construction costs are much higher than underground ones, as seen by comparing train tunnels in Turkey that cross water with ones that don’t.

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:11 pm

I meant the money spent on the whole Calatrava starchitecture project, not just on the hallway. Sorry about the lack of clarity.

paulb November 10, 2013 - 6:25 am

The second moral from WTC would be don’t hire Daniel Libeskind either.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 10:26 am

It’s a matter of taste, and while I believe that the PATH station design is certainly interesting, I don’t think it’s exterior is terribly attractive. I hope it looks nicer than the renderings suggest.

John-2 November 8, 2013 - 6:34 am

Hey, it looks wide enough so that maybe they can stick a restaurant and an Apple Store in it and earn back some of the cost…

SEAN November 8, 2013 - 12:50 pm

They just might do that since Westfield is selling malls & other properties globally to raise capital & I have no doubt that a great deal of it is being poored into the WTC site. The last number I recall seeing from them was somewhere in the neighborhood of $687 Million & that’s just for the mall it self.

SEAN December 6, 2013 - 12:53 pm

A follow up…

Westfield Buys Remaining Interest in World Trade Center Retail for $800 Million

New York City — The Westfield Group has taken full control of the World Trade Center retail project by buying the 50 percent interest in the project held by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for $800 million. The acquisition represents approximately 365,000 square feet at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

Plans for the purchased space include bi-level retail offerings in the new WTC West Concourse pedestrian corridor. The sale also included an additional 90,000 square feet of retail when Tower 2 is developed in the future.

This transaction comes about one-and-a-half years after the initial 50/50 joint venture between Westfield and the Port Authority, for which both parties committed approximately $612.5 million. That brings Westfield’s total investment in the project, which is set to open in 2015, to more than $1.4 billion.

“We have greatly valued our long-standing relationship with the Port Authority and will continue to work in close collaboration for the successful realization of the overall project,” says Peter Lowy, co-CEO at Westfield. “Now, we look forward to 2015 and celebrating the distinctive character and vibrancy of this great city, while introducing Westfield World Trade Center — an iconic, spectacular and world-class shopping, dining, cultural, entertainment destination — to New Yorkers and global visitors alike.”

The Port Authority will retain ownership of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub and continue as contractor for Westfield’s retail assets at WTC West Concourse, the office portion of which — known as One World Trade Center — was completed in May.

The Port Authority also remains eligible for an additional one-time payment from Westfield within the first five years of the retail portion’s grand opening, should returns exceed a previously agreed-upon threshold.

“Today’s $800 million sale of the Port Authority’s remaining interest in the World Trade Center Retail joint venture is a significant step in the Port Authority’s continuing efforts to refocus agency resources on our core transportation mission,” says David Samson, Port Authority chairman. “Westfield’s $1.4 billion overall investment in the project, which represents the largest private sector investment at the site, underscores Westfield’s commitment to provide an exceptional shopping experience to all who visit.”

Sydney, Australia-based Westfield Group LLC manages a worldwide retail portfolio that totals approximately 94.7 million leasable square feet in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. The firm either owns or holds an interest in each of the 91 developments in the portfolio, which together are valued at more than $65 billion.

In May of 2001, Westfield partnered with Silverstein Properties to sign a 99-year ground lease at the World Trade Center, the retail portion of which — then known as the Mall at the World Trade Center — Westfield would manage. The company intended to rebrand the property as Westfield Shoppingtown World Trade Center prior to its destruction in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

— John McCurdy

Brandon November 8, 2013 - 6:52 am

Even utilitarian projects are way too expensive. Calatrava is a red herring.

Larry Littlefield November 8, 2013 - 7:01 am

Three words. Municipal Art Society.

When the garbage is piling up in outer borough parks so the city can pay for Governors’ Island without and revenue producers to offset the cost, that will the their fault too.

JP November 8, 2013 - 7:54 am

Go walk through it. Ridiculous cost or not, it’s absolutely stunning to walk through.

…And do it now, before the retail stores move in.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 10:08 am

Agreed. It’s amazing. And they have security watching you like a hawk! You’d think it’s the lobby of the Four Seasons or something.

Lady Feliz November 8, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Awesome. Because when I go downtown to shop or take a train, I want Big Brother over my shoulder watching my every move. Yikes.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 1:11 pm

I think they are just trying to keep it clean and not let it turn into a vagrant encampment as is the case with Penn Station.

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 1:23 pm

How…liberal. Maybe the money would be better spent addressing the problems that lead to vagrancy than wasting it on welfare for the security state’s employees and its contractor friends.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 2:52 pm

I think NYC spends an enormous amount on these programs. I see volunteers try to get vagrants into shelters all the time in NYP and GCT. They generally refuse. I’m not sure what else you can do. I suspect that under Deblasio perhaps this will all be taken care of like it was when Dinkins was mayor.

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 3:29 pm

Well, we should hope. Dinkins brought homelessness to a decades-long low point. But de Blasio is probably more like the theatrical clowns Koch or LaGuardia than technocrat Dinkins.

Henry November 9, 2013 - 8:33 am

I believe the City is actually one of the few places that establishes a right to shelter. Since the program has been more or less habitually neglected by Bloomberg, there hasn’t been enough expansion of the programs to meet demand.

Keep in mind that a significant portion of the homeless is mentally ill. It may not be all of them, or even half of them, but it’s a significant enough amount.

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:12 pm

The Reagan-era defunding of the mental hospitals, throwing everyone out on the street, has been a disaster nationwide. The state ended up having to open a number of new mental institutions.

lawhawk November 8, 2013 - 1:08 pm

Had a chance to walk through the corridor this afternoon. It really is quite a spectacular space, with an ethereal quality with the white on white layering, and the head-house on the WFC side is quite nifty with the curling steel that reminds me of large trees supporting the roofline. Arguably, that’s even more impressive than the tunnel portion – particularly at night.

Could they have gone with a more conventional tunnel box and other materials? Absolutely. But this is eventually going to be part of the mall and transit hub, so they were going for a comprehensive look. I just wonder how the materials are going to hold up under constant usage – and how long will it take for the floors to get dingy (and those added costs to maintain/replace).

Peter November 8, 2013 - 8:59 am

Remember when the original proposal was to submerge West Street in front of the WFC, but for some reason, Goldman Sachs objected, and of course, it gets what it wants.

With the roadway depressed, the need for the passageway would have vanished.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 10:10 am

YUP!!! NYSDOT could have depressed the highway and had maybe a one x one surface street. But highways are baaaaaaad.

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 4:18 pm

Stop being reactionary. It’s not a question of being good or bad, but it’s a safe bet you don’t live next to one or, if you do, you do it out of desperation rather than free choice.

lawhawk November 8, 2013 - 1:26 pm

That would have been more costly than this design, and it too would have been flooded out completed by Sandy. As a matter of fact, I’m curious how Brookfield, Westfield, and the Port Authority are going to secure this against potential flooding since this is all significantly below grade (and well below the flooding that washed up West Street and flooded much of Battery Park City and parts of West Street.

The escalators on the WFC side would be nothing but a conduit to flooding out the rest of the complex if not properly secured against flooding.

Henry November 9, 2013 - 9:08 am

I doubt that PANYNJ would make floodproofing as public as the MTA had; remember their silence about the work going on at Hoboken after Sandy?

Couple this with an NYPD that was neurotic enough to basically redo the entire WTC plan with bunkers and surveillance complexes, changing the original concept of the 2003 master plan including the Freedom Tower and the WTC Hub (and probably adding a couple hundred million or billion to their costs), and you probably wouldn’t have any non-aesthetic changes to the buildings publicized at all.

Also, I don’t think this gets emphasized enough: change orders are very, very expensive. Sometime after 2003, some very drastic changes that the NYPD plan made were splashed on the front pages of the papers, along with a much bigger price tag. With all the increased “security” measures they added, they probably ended up adding a lot of money to the cost due to the structural analyses required again. They changed the Freedom Tower from a off-center to a center spiral, moved it back from West St, and transformed the base into a giant concrete bunker. The NYPD also gave us the current stegosaurus; the original design did not look like this. So at least not all of the increase in costs is due to overemphasizing looks (although a lot of it is)

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:13 pm

Ugh. Why am I not surprised that security theater has caused bloated costs.

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:18 pm

I could also call it “Schmuckurity”.

David Brown November 8, 2013 - 9:15 am

One of the big problems that does not get enough coverage but is very much related to the cost of the “Hallway” is the fact that people will complain for DECADES about losing an “Opportunity for (what they consider) greatness” or even worse something that was demolished that was great or they consider great 9even if is was not). The Original Penn Station is a perfect example of this. Some of these people even wax poetic about the 1970s Times Square or The Bowery when it was basically skid row. So what happens, the people trying to build (PA, MTA, Developers, NYC, it does not matter), spend extra money basically to shut these people up, and (or) get something approved by some Community Board or Landmarks. I frankly never heard of Santiago Calatrava before this Project, and I would not know his work from Picasso’s (I know they are both from Spain). By the way, I read the same Calatrava is designing the New Orthodox Church (to replace the one that was ruined after 9/11). What does it mean? Obviously there must be people ignoring the lessons of how much the PATH Station cost, otherwise he would not have been selected. I also hear NO “No Voices” about it. This kind of attitude is the reason why I believe that Penn Station II will actually get built no matter the cost (although there could (and should) be additional Transit Elements involved). Will they start work in five, ten, or twenty years? No idea, but one day it will happen, because the Municipal Art Society (and other interest groups) will hue, cry, bitch, moan & complain, until it happens, and there are not enough people willing to be like Ben, and say NO to these people and projects.

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:15 pm

The whole problem with this attitude is that you CAN make really nice buildings which “stand the test of time” with *relatively little* money spent on flashy stuff.

Sure, it’s more expensive than a concrete box, but if you design for function first, then decorate what’s left, it’s not THAT much more expensive than a concrete box. By contrast, the Calatrava Terminal is a lot more expensive than a concrete box.

Phantom November 8, 2013 - 9:16 am

Before one more construction contract is signed, there should be an honest and comprehensive study of why costs run so wild here

Everything should be on the table, including

Reformation of NY Labor Laws, a) which set an absolute liability theshold for workers injured in falls and b) allow for double dipping for liability claims and workers comp

The first has led to big payouts even for workers who were working while drunk, hardly a unique thing here, and other abuses. NY is the only state that has law like this.

You cannot discuss NY construction costs without discussing this huge driver of liability and insurance costs.

Insurance costs are vastly higher in NY than for the same project a few miles away in NJ. Some insurance companies won’t touch a NY risk because the liabilty can be so volatile.

The cost factor can’t be fixed until this is fixed.

Larry Littlefield November 8, 2013 - 9:48 am

Don’t forget the status of the multi-employer pension plans. As in the public sector, the unionized workers got retroactive pension increase and the executives underfunded the plans to increase short term profits. The winners are gone. The losers are looking for victims.

Younger construction workers are screwed, and they are looking for someone to pay. How about having public projects in NYC pay, not only for the pensions on past public projects, but also the pension on past private projects, not only in NYC but for some broader geographic area?

You’ll see why absolutely NO ONE in Generation Greed has an incentive to talk about this.

Phantom November 8, 2013 - 10:09 am

Are Shelly Silver and his lawyer and union buddies/paymasters in that generation?

Which politician here has spoken loudly about this?

You don’t even hear bigmouth developers talk about it, even guys like Trump that can’t shut up about anything else.

Larry Littlefield November 8, 2013 - 11:48 am

Trump is the exemplar of Generation Greed. In fact, I was planning a post on it this weekend. Inherited the hard work of his father, just like his generation inherited the hard work of prior generations of Americans. And if there is one thing The Donald is good it, it is borrowing money, living large, going bankrupt, and hitting someone else with the bill.


This is a very technical paper, but check out figures 29 and 30 on pages 73 and 74, and the discussion that starts on page 26. This cautious group may not be prepared to draw conclusions about the relative well being of those who are young today, but I am. This disadvantages in public policy are layered on top of these disadvantages and disadvantages in family life.

lawhawk November 8, 2013 - 9:23 am

With the realignment of 9W (West Street), siting 1WTC in the NW corner, and the need to connect BPC/WFC to the WTC and points east again (there were two pedestrian bridges over 9W, they had to come up with an alternative way to get pedestrians across 9W.

They went with an underground passageway rather than another bridge. I get that part.

The cost, however, is obscene.

From the particular use of materials to the overall cost of more than $225 million, this passageway leads to what will be the new WTC mall, the PATH transit hall, and then on to 2/3/4 WTC, and then to the Dey Street connector and Fulton Center.

I wouldn’t fully put the blame on Spitzer for this mess. It still ultimately rests on the PANY/NJ and their refusal to take spiraling costs into account and limiting some of the more extravagant features that added to the costs. But they also saw dollar signs for building out a luxury mall to replace that which was lost on 9/11. This is just the first step in that – and Brookfield is revamping WFC to do the same. They’re going high-end and the fit and finishes have to be appropriate to get the kinds of rents they’re looking for.

It’s still tough to get figures on what portion of the costs goes to the transit hub, associated infrastructure, the mall, and even on to the memorial and museum portions. It’s mostly lumped together.

Still, this coming week we should see 4WTC opened for business. It’s 50%+ leased, and that will get more people in to the area, and that was one of the tipping points for getting the MTA to get the Dey Street connector opened (we will see about that). It also means that additional access in and around 4WTC will open up to pedestrian traffic while the transit hub, 3, and 2 WTC remain behind construction barriers.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 10:12 am

“Still, this coming week we should see 4WTC opened for business.”

Is it actually “open”? I think the building is done, but I was a bit dejected to read that occupancy won’t start until 2015! That sort of delay from completion to fit out implies that WTC 1 won’t be occupied until 2016.

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 10:07 am

As usual, I’m going to register some objections to your points:

“runs for a few hundred feet under a road that’s busy, but not that busy”

West Street is very busy and very wide. Because there no longer is any limited access highway in that area, West Street funnels – at grade – traffic into the Battery Tunnel (or whatever Democrat they’ve named it after) and the Holland Tunnel. On the west side of the street is the massive WFC, the Goldman complex and Battery Park City. And at grade pedestrian crossing there is rank idiocy. I’m not saying that the thing should cost x dollars, but don’t pretend that all we need over there is a crossing guard and a times walk/don’t walk sign.

I get that the cost is extremely high, but what % of that is just the baseline cost to build the long corridor? What % is the incremental cost to make it nice? That’s the real question.

When you guys quote figures regarding cost to build in Spin or wherever, are there breakdowns regarding the comparative costs of private sector development? I’m wondering if the differentials are equally large for apartments and unsubsidized office construction. Does anyone know?

Benjamin Kabak November 8, 2013 - 10:11 am

I cross West St. at Murray on a regular basis and have never needed a pedestrian overpass or a $225 million tunnel to make it across the street. Why is an at-grade pedestrian crossing two blocks further south so problematic?

Eric F November 8, 2013 - 10:18 am

Again you are conflating grade separation and cost. I am only arguing grade separation. We may have varying tolerances for crossing 6 lanes and a median. There was a reason that the Stuyvesant bridge was put up (also ornate, and very nice). There was a grade-separated corridor between WTC and WFC before 9/11 as well, and that was before BPC was fully built out, Goldman stuck its HQ on the water and what will likely be NYC’s biggest tourist draw was built abutting West Street. You also may want to ask yourself what crossing Murray would be like if you were joined by the tens of thousands of people who are diverted through the Vescey overpass, and now this corridor.

SEAN November 8, 2013 - 12:40 pm

Anyone who questions the amount of money being spent on the WTC in any fashon must be questioning their own patriotism.

This is America! USA! USA! USA! LOL

Seriously – it is a lot of money, but once completed & running the complaining will vanish like it always does.

As for the end of megaprojects do to costs – that’s a lot of bull since all that is needed is debt issuance & that isn’t ending anytime soon. Once that happens, then we can have that discussion.

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 12:54 pm

I don’t know about Spain, but construction costs in European large cities might be typically higher than New York. Take a look at this stubby piece of crap going up in Mainhattan. Compare to the taller if slightly less spacious New York Times Building. I couldn’t say if New York highrise construction is especially inefficient, but it does seem at least competitive to other places of similar economic stature. It’s the transit costs that are outrageous here.

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 12:56 pm

Also, skyscrapers are rare in many cities. Check out Paris from a certain famous landmark. This is a dense city of more than 2M people.

Hoosac November 8, 2013 - 2:49 pm

I read somewhere that the government in Paris made a deliberate decision — maybe it’s a law? — that buildings in the city center could rise no more than a few stories. The idea was to retain the character of the city, and probably also to retain the tourists. If you look off in the distance of the panorama you linked to (wonderful photo!), you’ll see high-rise buildings.

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 3:38 pm

Something like that. There are few, and the Tour Montparnasse was the only major skyscraper for decades. Now there is the Tour First, which is even taller.

La Défense is the Parisian “business district” I guess in the sense of Lower Manhattan. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but has the bulk of the highrise (if not skyscraper per se) construction.

Henry November 8, 2013 - 3:48 pm

Specifically, the law was enacted because the Tour Montparnasse was such an ugly, modernist blight on the skyline. I believe it’s in the right of that gigantic panorama, but it is certainly no looker.

Most Parisian skyscrapers (if you can call them that; they would be considered mid-rise here) would be in La Defense. Similarly, the majority of skyscrapers in London are in the Dockyards. The only major European city with a sizable amount of skyscrapers in the city center would be Frankfurt.

It’s also not necessarily a bad thing; the peaks of skyscraper booms tend to mark the beginning of a recession (or, in the case of the Empire State Building, a depression).

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:21 pm

Paris, and some other cities, prove that you can have a dense urban city where everyone rides the Metro without skyscrapers.

It seems to be possible to do it entirely with 4-6 story buildings.

Now, the payback of elevators for 4-6 story buildings is kind of bad. As long as you have to put in elevators, it becomes logical to have 8-10 story buildings instead, which you can handle with the same number of elevators.

But skyscrapers are really optional. NYC built a lot because Manhattan is a tiny island.

Alon Levy November 11, 2013 - 12:40 am

Paris isn’t 4-6; it’s more like 5-9.

Michael Sherrell November 8, 2013 - 11:44 am

Here’s the part that I really do not understand from the transit fans. They constantly talk about the head-house for the new PATH terminal at the World Trade Center, and how much it costs, calling it a dinosaur and other bad names. However they never ever mention the costs associated with building the underground complexes, the transit and utility systems, and re-building the various infra-structure elements that support the whole complex. No, all they can talk about is the above ground structure elements that can be seen.

As if just pocket-change is going to build all of this stuff. On what planet do these folks live? Then in the same breath, they – the transit fans say “lets’ build this, and connect that, and then build this” – as if those items do not cost any money. There are hundreds of fantasy transit plans, maps and ideas floating around. Public works cost money, a lot of money! They always have!

If the builders had built a truly shabby pathway, the critics would complain that it is a shabby pathway! Complaining that money was spent. If a beautiful pathway is built, the critics would complain, “this pathway is just too beautiful for the masses, build something cheaper and shabbier!” Again complaining that money was spent. You can’t win with these people!

As is clear this path fits within a larger scheme for the whole design of the World Trade Center complex, and its various parts. That this passageway is not a “white elephant” to nowhere. It seems some folks will never be satisfied.

Benjamin Kabak November 8, 2013 - 1:03 pm

Michael: I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at here. The headhouse is symbolic of the problems with the complex, but spending $4.5 billion — even if some of it will be offset through retail rents — on what amounts to a fancy subway stop with questionably necessary underground passages is the issue. We’ve talked about the underground supports; we’ve talked about hallway design; we’ve talked about prioritizing spending properly. The issue isn’t that all design is bad, but the issue is that, when dollars for transit are limited and when project costs double from their initial estimates, why is it OK to continue spending on something like the PATH Hub?

Bolwerk November 8, 2013 - 1:21 pm

You really must be new here. What is a “transit fan”?

If you’re referring to people who post here, complaints about overbuilding pretty common. The missing 7 extension station, the SAS, and and ESA all have inappropriately high costs associated with them, and little of that has to do with what pokes above ground.

There are hundreds of fantasy transit plans, maps and ideas floating around. Public works cost money, a lot of money! They always have!

But, they’re often affordable if costs are controlled and resources aren’t squandered on Calatrava art projects. Even better, they actually move people. There is nothing wrong with spending money, but there is no need to do it like a drunken sailor.

lawhawk November 8, 2013 - 1:45 pm


As Ben has repeatedly pointed out, the $4.5B spent on the PATH hub does not increase capacity on PATH one iota. While PATH is upgrading the signals across the system to increase capacity, the PATH hub doesn’t change the amount of passengers that the system can handle.

Had they spent $2b to rebuild the station, and then spent the other $2.5B to build another tube (or extend service to Newark or to Brooklyn or any other actual capacity increasing option), that’s a different and more acceptable thing.

But as it is, the PANY decided on cost containment past any point where it would do any good and the moving parts around the site force them to stick to the Calatrava design or else lose deadlines to build out the memorial and other aspects of the site.

David Brown November 8, 2013 - 1:51 pm

I agree with you about the critics ( you will never satisfy most of them). I also mentioned about the Orthodox Church ( I know as well as anybody that no one would accept the decrepit facility it was before 9/11). I also agree with you that everything related to Downtown is about filling in gaps to make it work ( basically everything except a couple of exceptions like Tower # 2 will be finished in three years). But ask yourself why with the exception of Nassau County, generally speaking the Country turned left ( and in some cases ( like Seattle) to the Left of Bill DeBlasio). The reason is a disconnect between the elites and the average person . From a transportation angle, people see $225m “Hallways” for the PATH Station but dangerous conditions at their local Subway Station ( such as Brooklyn (N) Train Stations). Do I agree with the approaches of ” Occupy Wall Street” and similar groups? Not even 1%. But does it mean their point is valid that something is very wrong? That is 100% correct. We as Republicans got our asses kicked because we came up with establishment people like Romney and Lhota, who like Obama and Quinn are oblivious to what is happening. The problem becomes taking this back to transit: What happens if stuff like $10b Penn Station’s get attempted, fares go up and we still see service that sucks and disgusting Subway Stations like West 4th Street , Chambers Street, and Hoyt-Schimmerhorn St remain as is? I will be very happy if De Blssio improves things and we never find out.

Ben November 10, 2013 - 6:42 pm

You’re in for quite a shock if you think DeBlasio will be responsive to anyone’s transit concerns. Not that Lhota was any better, mind, but still.

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:24 pm

The PATH Hub is a case where we already know what the underground work cost… because there was a functioning “first temporary” and a functioning “second temporary” station!

There’s something very funny going on when $4.5 billion is being spent to build a couple of connecting passageways to an already-complete-and-functioning train station.

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:30 pm

I’m not saying I know what’s wrong with it, but there is definitely something wrong.

Maybe it’s the way NY mishandles utilities. Cities with well-mapped utility tunnels seem to have a lot less trouble building underpasses.

AlexB November 8, 2013 - 1:35 pm

I don’t want to put a damper on all the hatin’ going on in this comment thread, but $225 million actually seems like a pretty reasonable deal compared with other NYC transit construction projects. 600-700 feet is not “a few hundred” feet, it’s a long way, and the finishes and architecture are light years better than anything else in the system. Compare it to the Broadway/Lafayette-Bleecker transfer that cost $135 million to extend a single platform about about a hundred feet and install a few elevators. Or compare it to the Dey St Passage that cost $200 million for only 400 feet and a much lower quality of design. This site did have a post about the cost of the Broadway Lafayette work, but no one seems to mind the Dey St Passageway cost (or the fact that it should be under Fulton St, or that it should be an in-system transfer). My only real complaint is that I think it would have made a lot of sense for the owner of “Brookfield Properties” to have chipped in since they are the ones getting most of the value here.

Larry Littlefield November 8, 2013 - 1:51 pm

“My only real complaint is that I think it would have made a lot of sense for the owner of “Brookfield Properties” to have chipped in since they are the ones getting most of the value here.”

Hopefully they will be required to pay property taxes at whatever the value of their buildings settles at, high or low.

Nathanael November 10, 2013 - 5:27 pm

The Broadway/Lafayette – Bleecker tranfer was a much, MUCH more difficult project. Not only was it in a much more constrained and confined area, with utilities which are much less documented — but IIRC it turned out to be the former location of a gas station, with underground contamination. Really painful to work through.

The Dey St. Passage is a more appropriate point of comparison. Why did that cost so much?

Jeff November 11, 2013 - 9:51 am

Brookfield as far as I know did fund the construction of the western end of the passageway (that emerges into the WFC complex). The rest of the passageway was constructed under the WTC Hub project but is basically part of the 1 WTC concourse so the PA rightfully paid for it.

dungone November 8, 2013 - 2:20 pm

Calling it a “hallway” is hyperbole but it does convey the strictly utilitarian mindset here. This space does serve other functions, it has both cultural and commercial value apart from being just a straightest line between point A and point B.

LLQBTT November 8, 2013 - 5:56 pm

It seems that they are sparing no expense to attempt to recapture the look and feel of the old WTC complex.

David Brown November 9, 2013 - 6:44 am

LLQBTT, that is the problem. There is a real intrinsic cost of doing business in New York, that rarely gets discussed in polite circles. Which is having to payoff various interests groups, because of the worse alternatives. On this project, we would hear 50 years of crying by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) if the WTC Complex did not look like the original. But without the MAS, you would get even more extreme elements: By me (the LES), you get certain people who hate 7-11’s and Condo’s and want a return to the days of “Bowery Bums”, Avenue A as a haven for prostitutes, and “Tompkins Square Park” as ” Needle Park.” On the grounds it represents a “Real New York.” There is a very well known Poet named Bob Holman who is all about that. He is the LES version of Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society For Historical Preservation (GVSHP). How bad is Berman? Even radical Left-Wing Greenwich Village did not want Berman on the City Council. Anyone ever notice Berman who complains about everything, never says word one about the West 4th Street Subway Station? Why? Because he likes it the way it is (to keep tourists and worse, new buyers out). Of course, the downside to this are the added unnecessary costs and the fact that another project gets deferred or cancelled because of the time and money involved. Its a subject I would love to hear mentioned from the more liberal elements on this board (such as Bolwerk).

Spendmore Wastemore November 8, 2013 - 8:46 pm

Thanks again, Ben, for bringing attention to this. This message needs to be repeated many time, in different variations, before the public will notice. There’s a grifter attitude in LI and NYC to the effect that money comes out of a faucet, supplied by someone else. Money really means work, inspiration, land and materials. Politicians and people who have no work ethic are happy to burn it, bc they never produced work or inspiration.

I can see a bit of overspending to fix — or just demolish — the sinkhole known as Penn Station; it’s a central point of connection and a multi-line terminal. This thing? Most people would rather walk over a covered bridge, which at least breaks up the monotony of being stuck in a cube, then stuffed in a train, the stuck in one’s car, then finally back to one’s mortgage or rent related edifice.

Frank November 12, 2013 - 12:35 am

I used the passageway last week. It look very good. It was certainly was an improvement over the temporary walkway over West Side Highway. While the cost of the passageway is a little steep, there may be a reason why it costs so much. For one thing there is limited space for the construction of the passageway. It is sandwiched between WTC 1 and the 9/11 Memorial on both sides. It’s likely the passageway isn’t finished yet and what we see is not all of it. I don’t think complaining about the cost of the passageway is pointless because it doesn’t get anybody anywhere.

Andre L. November 12, 2013 - 11:21 am

I read many (admittedly not all) comments here. Something crucial IMO that escapes the discussion: the post-9/11 context in which the decision to build a “World Class Transit Hub” was taken.

Aftermath of tragedies like 9/11 create the public sentiment conditions for “no expenses spared” projects. I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong or right, but the effects are there. The adjacent 9/11 Memorial and Museum (not only what is already opened – the pools – but the whole complex) is immensely expensive, it will ultimately cost more than $ 400 million and will have the highest museum operation cost in the city. No politician will dare much criticize it as it would be providing prime negative ad inserts next elections (“here is a person who don’t care for the memory of those who died on this horrible attack’).

It is a process that affected the WTC 1/Freedom Tower as well, and only didn’t affect some other skyscrapers there because private developers slowed or stopped construction for years.

In this context, the decision to go over, and over, and over with the WTC transit hub budget, if not correct, is at least understandable. It is not fancy to talk about cost-effective design and the likes when you are in charge of supervising the design of something that must be a symbol as much as a train station.

The selection of Calatrava only maximized, for his own project design process flaws that affect many of his other projects, the potential for the high (and increasing) costs.

paulb November 13, 2013 - 12:02 pm

I share this opinion, that the awful circumstances led to decisions that wouldn’t have been made otherwise. New York was hysteria city, for awhile. The “counterproductive” (to say the least) leadership of Pataki and the nonexistent leadership of Spitzer and Patterson also contributed. (See Scott Raab’s series of WTC articles in Esquire.) Another thing, was the money for PATH fungible? Is it realistic to expect that at the time it could have been cut from WTC and applied to other projects?

HOPEFULLY, decisions about Penn Station will be more level-headed.

paulb November 14, 2013 - 6:20 pm

Walked thru it today. It may be just a corridor, but it’s one hell of an impressive corridor.

Stephen - NYC November 18, 2013 - 10:51 am

Just a itty-bitty correction: It is Vesey Street.


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