Home Fulton Street A look inside the new Fulton St. Transit Center

A look inside the new Fulton St. Transit Center

by Benjamin Kabak

From street level, the Fulton St. Transit Center unfolds downward. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The problem with federal funding is how inflexible it is. The feds may be willing to pony over a significantly amount of dollars — upwards of one billion for certain projects — but that money can’t be shuffled around to better uses. It’s earmarked for a specific purpose, and the local agency receiving that money has to spend it on that purpose, even if agency heads know how badly they could use those same dollars for something far more worthwhile. Such are the contradictions of the Fulton St. Transit Center which will open to the public at 5 a.m.

On Sunday, politicians and MTA officials past and present gathered to celebrate the completion of the Fulton St. Transit Center, and in a way, it was a big deal. Two former MTA heads — Joe Lhota and Lee Sander — were in attendance as well as Mysore Nagaraja, the former head of MTA Capital Construction, who oversaw the start of this project well over a decade ago. Chuck Schumer, Jerry Nadler and Sheldon Silver didn’t miss the photo op either. Finally, the construction surrounding Fulton St. will end, and as tenants fill into 1 World Trade Center, the Fulton St. part of the Lower Manhattan puzzle is complete.

The Sky Reflector Night spanning the oculus will bring natural light into the Fulton St. Transit Center. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

But in another way, the fact that the Fulton St. Transit Center even exists as a megaproject comes out of a different era in recent New York City history. Following the 9/11 attacks, politicians thought the best way to restore faith in New York and heal the wound to its psyche was to pump money into Lower Manhattan. It was, at the time, believed to be the only way to get people to return to the area to live or work or shop, and part of that money involved funding both the Fulton St. Transit Center and parts of the Calatrava World Trade Center PATH Hub. No one stopped to question whether the city needed to spend billions of dollars on two fancy subway stops, and no one could stop the political desire to create a public place and public space in Lower Manhattan.

So what we have now is the Fulton Center. It’s a multi-level headhouse atop the Fulton St. subway complex, and it’s not all just an ornate building with an oculus and the Sky Reflector Net, an art installation that will bring daylight into the depths of the headhouse. It’s also going to feature 30,000 square feet of retail that Westfield will begin to fill in early 2015, and the renovations open up corridors that were cramped, dark and hard to navigate. It’s fully ADA-compliant, and when all is said and done in Lower Manhattan, it will serve as the eastern end of an underground passageway stretching from Brookfield Place on the Hudson River to the Fulton St. station complex via the PATH Hub and the Dey St. Concourse. The transfers between the PATH, the E, the 1, the R and all the trains at Fulton St. will not be free, but they will be easy and underground.

R train thisaway. The Dey St. Concourse will eventually serve as a link from Brookfield Place to the Fulton St. Transit Center via the WTC PATH Hub. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As I toured the new station on Sunday, I was struck by its size. There’s nothing quite like it in the New York City subway system today. While we’re used to cramped corridors with low ceilings and narrow spaces, the Fulton St. Transit Center is massive with wide open vistas and a lot of space for people. The transfer between the A and C platform and the 4 and 5 will be instantly easier and quicker, and the East Side IRT platforms are much wider. (The doors in that photo will always kept open; they can be closed in the event of the emergency.) The Fulton St. Transit Center will likely become a meeting spot and, as Therese McMillan, the Acting Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, said, “an essential part of everyday life” in the neighborhood.

Outside of fare control, this staircase will connect various levels of the Fulton St. Transit Center as well as retail spaces. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Is it all worth it though? During his remarks on Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer, quoting the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, stated that great public works are always “worth the dollars.” But he also said the same thing about the Calatrava hub, and he’s a big supporter of Moynihan Station. These three projects are all, to varying degrees, nice to look at, but they do little to nothing to solve problems of regional mobility. For a combined expense of over $7 billion — the total of the Fulton St., PATH and Moynihan expenditures — the city could build train tunnels it needs rather than another fancy building.

But the fancy building is what we get. So take a look around as you pass through there on Monday. Try to find the special edition MetroCard and marvel at what federal dollars can bring. It certainly doesn’t look like the subway system with which New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship. That alone is a step in the right direction, albeit a very, very expensive one.

I’ll have more on the features of the Transit Center — the video boards and ad screens, the climate control, the plans for the retail space — later this week. For now, enjoy the pictures. After the jump, view a slideshow of all of my photos from Sunday. For an ongoing stream of my transit-related photos, be sure to follow me on Instagram.

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Michael Romero November 10, 2014 - 1:26 am

While you can’t ignore the importance of fixing up some of the more technical problems of the Fulton St complex (the confusing and cramped corridors, no ADA access), the only word that can really come to mind is waste. Waste born out of an era of politicians who wanted to put their names on some kind of “legacy”. They could have fixed up a lot of the issues with this station and been done with it for a fraction of the cost if they didn’t need this legacy building that’s just a glorified headhouse.

The point about the federal money is sadly noted as well. It really is too bad that later heads of the MTA who seem to at least approach things somewhat pragmatically, could not reroute some of the money away from something like this into getting another segment of the SAS built, or tunnel resiliency, etc. This new station is nice, but we could have gotten a lot more for a lot less without some of this grandeur.

Ryan November 10, 2014 - 8:27 am

There’s not a damn chance that the money that went in to this building could have paid for a quarter of a phase of 2 Av.

“Waste,” if it comes to mind here, must come to mind for literally everything built in 21st century NYC, as it’s all a shameful waste of money when everything costs orders of magnitudes more than it ought to.

I would rather have Fulton than maybe – maybe! – one more 2 Av station at the prices these things cost. If Fulton and 2 Av both cost about 15%-20% of what we’re told they cost, I’d expect the budget to have room for both.

If we could get Fulton for $1b or so, or another 2 Av phase for $1b or so, there’s probably nobody who wouldn’t take 2 Av. But actually, we could get Fulton for $1b, or another phase of 2 Av for $5b+, maybe even $6 or $7, and so I’ll take Fulton over 2 Av just the same as I would at reasonable construction costs because I have become resigned to the fact that we’re just going to treat the infrastructure budget like it’s all clown money and so approach all spending discussions with the assumption that all numbers should just have a comically large multiplier attached.

I mean, if we’re going to flush money down a toilet, we might as well enjoy the go, as it were.

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2014 - 10:08 am

Are you just throwing numbers at the wall to see if anything sticks or do these figures have any basis in fact? Based on the work required, there’s no way you could have done Fulton St. for 15-20% and the same can be said of Second Ave. No country is building transit for that cheap. Yes, the prices are inflated, but not by 500-600%.

As to the costs for Phase 2, again, no basis in reality. The MTA won’t release a cost estimate but I’ve heard it shouldn’t be much more than Phase 1. That’s still around $4-$4.5 billion — which I am not denying is far too high — but the hyperbole in your figures does nothing to help the debate.

Anonymous November 10, 2014 - 11:35 am

$500 million isn’t an unreasonable real-world price for a three-stop, half-built subway that’s under a wide street. The U-5 extension in Berlin is costing about 500 million euros including an overrun for a line that’s about the same length as SAS Phase 2 and isn’t half-built already. Obviously Spanish and Asian cities can build for much less than that.

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2014 - 11:42 am

Are you positive that’s the same length as SAS Phase 1? I was under the impression that it was about 40% of the distance, but I could be wrong. I’ll have to check later.

Bolwerk November 16, 2014 - 9:11 pm

Isn’t it an suburban (or extension? Even if it’s underground, it’s not going to cost anywhere near as much as what SAS should cost. It’s a bad comparison.

However, what strikes me about new construction in Europe is the scale is actually usually quite small. Seems to me most of the stations on the SAS are going to look like that 7 extension behemoth at 34th Street. The kind of scale we need is the kind we see on the IRT in the UES with IND loading gauges and the modern trappings of the ADA.

Ryan November 10, 2014 - 11:45 am

Claiming what is at the end of the day a useful overhaul to a major subway transfer station plus a rather nice looking public space on top of the station as a waste due to its absurdly high cost while failing to acknowledge that literally everything in NYC has an absurdly high cost isn’t helping the debate either.

I can point at examples of urban construction and tunneling projects around the globe of similar scope in countries with similar political breakdowns as this one that manage to get delivered at costs that are orders of magnitude cheaper than what they are here. Paris builds its subway extensions for about $190 million per mile of tunnel, London at its worst for $524 million per mile of tunnel, Madrid for around $65 million per mile of tunnel. New York can’t get Phase 2 delivered for less than $2222 million per mile, which is four times more expensive than London and as much as 34(!) times more expensive than Madrid. At a certain point, the whole “those places aren’t here” exceptionalist dogma starts falling apart.

We should absolutely be able to deliver Phase 2 even in its awful “turn to 125 St” form for less than $2 billion (taking London’s construction costs per mile and attaching another $300 million each for the three stations on top of what is already factored into the London costs, Phase 2 would cost $1.843 billion), and I’m honestly not sure if it’d turn out that just punching through to 3 Av in the Bronx (which will have to happen eventually one way or the other) wouldn’t turn out to have cost parity with the current plan when you factor in the amount of, shall we say, “landscaping” that has to happen in Harlem to get trains from 2 Av to 125 St (and for what? So that you can change from the commuter rail to the T instead of the 456? I find it hard to believe that the vast majority of Lexington Avenue traffic are MNCR riders walking a block in Harlem as opposed to people living in the Upper East Side who are served by this regardless of transfer potential, and people living in the Bronx who don’t care if their transfer is at Lexington-125 or 3-149.)

By the way, that $2.22 billion per mile is assuming that you’re correct in your $4~$4.45 billion figure for Phase 2. As you say, the MTA hasn’t released figures yet, but I have no confidence both in the “about as much as Phase 1” you’ve heard and the ability of the MTA to actually deliver an estimate that isn’t going to balloon up another 50% (and if we’re lucky, it’s ONLY going to be 50%…) based on how all their recent projects (including this one) have gone. If they say it’s a $4 billion project, I’m already penciling $6 billion down as the final cost – 333% of what Phase 2 should cost based on the London + extra $300m/station pricing, 636% of what it should cost without that extra $900m tacked on.

I can’t find the exact square footage of the entire Fulton Center, but I did find 66000 square feet of retail. Let’s say 40% of the complex is retail and the rest is open space, multiply 66k by 2.5, you get a guesstimate of 165000 sqft built for whatever percentage of Fulton Center’s $1.4b final price tag didn’t get spent underground. Again, that number isn’t available or I couldn’t find it, so let’s just look at a variety of options for how much of that $1.4b ended up getting spent on the station space.

A 70/30 split in favor of building costs yields $980m for the building, or $5939 per square foot.
A 60/40 split in favor of building costs $840m for the building, or $5090 per square foot.
Even split yields $700m to each half of the project, or $4242 per square foot of building.
A 60/40 split in favor of station (e.g. platform) costs yields $560m for the building, or $3393 per square foot.
A 70/30 split in favor of underground costs yields $420m, or $2525 per square foot.
At a scant 20% of the project budget going into the building, your cost per square foot is $1697 and your cost for the underground renovation was $1.12 billion.

Just for the record? The October 2012 edition of the New York Building Congress put the cost per square foot of New York City office buildings at $350 per square foot: 4.85 times the 20% option, 12.12 times the even split option, and 14.54 times the 60% option (which I personally consider the most likely.)

As I said, I don’t have the exact numbers, but I’m comfortable enough with the assertions I’m making here. I absolutely think we could’ve delivered Fulton as is for $200~$300 million, and I absolutely think Phase 2 could be delivered for around $0.9~$1.2 billion, and both of those are indeed 15%~20% of what those projects actually ended up or will end up costing us.

Shabazz November 10, 2014 - 1:36 pm

Ben, I see what you are saying here but I also have to disagree. The MTA is in a lose/lose situation here. Perform much needed upgrades to the system that improve train capacity, people lament the look of the stations (as you have noted several times), perform upgrades to the stations, people lament the lack of upgrades to system’s infrastructure.

This was a good project. Like everything else, it cost way too much, but it was still a good project nonetheless. The Fulton Street Hub was a disaster only a few years ago, absolutely unnavigable, disgusting and overcrowded, yet it was one of the busiest stations in the city.

This project was not only about the headhouse, but also completely re-imagining the actual station itself. I remember when a simple transfer between the 8th ave line and the Lex took months of memorization, like a never ending maze.

I agree that improving subway capacity is important, but the experience of the riders themselves is also a part of the pie. $1.4 billion is a lot, but I think in the grand scheme of things it was money well spent.

I also agree that the real problem here is cost control. This project shouldn’t cost 1.4 billion.

AG November 10, 2014 - 6:32 pm

Do those numbers account for currency? If that is true of London that is spectacular… London is more expensive than NYC in just about every single respect… If they can build their subways for that “cheap” that would truly be remarkable.

Ryan November 10, 2014 - 6:36 pm

The figure I had for the Jubilee Line Extension was £330m/mile, which converts at today’s exchange rates to $524m/mile.

Max Roberts November 11, 2014 - 3:36 am

Jubilee Line figures were for a throughly cheap and nasty London tube with tiny short trains. It went thrugh parts of London that would not have been expensive to build in. You need to track down Crossrail figures once the line is completed, with large-sized long trains and stations in some of the most expensive parts of London.

Ryan November 11, 2014 - 7:31 am

Oh my! Tell us how you really feel about the Jubilee Line.

The beautiful thing about London is that there are a whole bunch of other examples of things they built that cost money, which we can actually form a narrative from.

Incidentally, the $_mi 524 million of the Jubilee Line extension is a 1999 figure. 42.88% inflation from then to now means today’s Jubilee Line Extension cost comes in at $_mi 748.67 million. Keep that number in mind, it’ll be important later. Also read $_mi as “dollars per mile.”

Crossrail: 73 miles of new track, complete project cost of £14.8 billion. Of this, about £1b is stated to be cost of rolling stock acquisition (bringing the remaining cost to £13.8b) and only 26 of the 73 miles (35.61%) are actual tunnel. A straight 35.61% of the cost of Crossrail is £4.9142b, or $7.7864 billion as of this morning, or $299.477 million per mile. Note that Crossrail’s own website pegs the tunneling contracts as worth £1.25b or thereabouts, or about 9.058% of the total non-rolling stock cost, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that the difference is made up of the station costs. Alternatively, if you like, we can assume that as much as 70% of the cost of Crossrail is tied up in combined tunnel and underground station efforts analogous to 2 Av, and find that 70% of £13.8b is £9.66b/$15.3060b or $_mi 588.6934 million, roughly 78.64% of the inflation-adjusted Jubilee cost per mile, 3.779 times the $_mi 2.22 billion of Phase 2 if it costs what Ben has heard it might cost and 5.6684 times the $_mi 3.33 billion that I expect it will end up costing.

The Chunnel: At £4.650 billion or $7.3703 billion, it was 80% over budget, and those were 1994 numbers so let’s inflate that right up to $11.8374 billion in 2014 dollars (turns out that we’ve experienced about 60.61% inflation over 20 years.) As you know, the Chunnel is one of the longest tunnels in the world at 31.35 miles (and has the longest undersea portion (23.5mi) of any tunnel anywhere). This works out to $_mi 377.5885 million with the 2014 inflation-adjusted cost ($_mi 235.0973 million in 1994 dollars) or roughly half of the cost of Jubilee and 64.14% the relevant portion of Crossrail’s cost assuming that the relevant portion is 70%.

If I need to continue I will, but just from these two pointed examples of things I suspect that you suspect should have cost much more than “a throughly cheap and nasty London tube with tiny short trains” did, I think I’ve made the case that the Jubilee Line figures are actually among the worst ever paid by London.

AG November 11, 2014 - 7:46 am

One issue – construction costs go up faster than inflation in major cities.

In any event – everyone is talking the dollars… But I still want to know the HOW… As I stated earlier – London is more expensive than NYC in just about every way… Real estate to taxes… Even train fares are more expensive. So I would like to know HOW they are able to construct things cheaper.

I’d also like to compare other alpha cities like Hong Kong and Tokyo. Both of which are also more expensive than NYC… If they can also construct rail lines – dollar for dollar – cheaper than NYC – then they HOW needs to be dissected.

Alon Levy November 11, 2014 - 7:00 pm

“One issue – construction costs go up faster than inflation in major cities.”

No, they don’t. No French subway is as expensive per kilometer as the central segment of the RER A was (about $450 million/km in 2010 money) back in the 1970s, and very few non-French European subways are, possibly none outside the UK.

Max Robets November 11, 2014 - 8:30 am

Come on now, you can’t say how much something has cost to build before it has been completed! And after riding on a few of London’s deep level tube lines, especially in the summer, you will almost certainly agree that cheap and nasty is an excellent description. Unless you enjoy banging your head on the ceiling of a car while you are riding!

Ryan November 11, 2014 - 9:34 am

Sorry, which part of the Chunnel is still under conconstruction again?

And unlike the MTA, I’m generally willing to give TfL the benefit of the doubt when it comes to maintaining budget. I have no reason to doubt that the final price will be not far off from the £13.8b we have now.

(Even were it to begin inflating, you’d need the underground portion to turn out at 70% of the cost total AND the cost of the project needs to triple before it’s even in the same league as 2AS Phase 2.)

AG November 11, 2014 - 11:27 am

Ryan – well maybe it’s a U.S. issue then… Perfect example from the San Fran Bay Area… A “simple” project – delayed and with cost overruns…


Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 5:55 pm

It may look like a US issue at first glance.

It’s really a NYC & San Francisco issue.

Even Los Angeles and Chicago numbers come in much more reasonable.

AG November 12, 2014 - 11:38 pm

Well sure – everything – good or bad is magnified in NYC… That goes without saying. I still don’t see other transit projects in the country generally on time and on within budget…

Even in LA – years of delay and cost projection overruns… Chances this will be done in 2023 (and ultimately 2035) and for the current projection? I wouldn’t bet on it.


Alon Levy November 11, 2014 - 7:06 pm

Ryan: generally, for new construction, tunnels are 2-2.5 times as expensive as viaducts and 4-6 times as expensive as at-grade lines. But the non-tunneled parts of Crossrail are not new construction – they take over existing commuter lines, at lower cost than building a light rail line of the same length.

Point being, the likely proportion of the Crossrail cost that goes to underground construction is if anything higher than 70%. That’s why I usually try to keep my set of comparison projects to mostly underground lines, or at least all-greenfield lines, for which the underground:elevated cost ratio is somewhat controllable.

Alon Levy November 11, 2014 - 7:09 pm

If by “not expensive to build in” you mean “crossed from Central London eastward under the Thames 4 times, going under the entire preexisting Underground network,” then what do you consider expensive to build in? Certainly not SAS or the 7 extension; the 7 extension crosses under one line, and SAS crosses none in the first phase.

Benjamin Kabak November 11, 2014 - 7:16 pm

The Second Ave. Subway has no excuse, but the 7 didn’t just go under one line. It also went under Port Authority underpinnings, the Lincoln Tunnel tubes, Amtrak’s Hudson North River tunnels and Amtrak’s Hudson North Access Tunnel.

Alon Levy November 12, 2014 - 8:12 pm

The 7 doesn’t really have an excuse for this, either – it could go above the deeper infrastructure, including the North River Tunnels. This is similar to the plan for SAS Phase 3 to go above all the east-west subway tunnels, which are already quite deep by Second Avenue.

lop November 11, 2014 - 8:57 pm


Doesn’t SAS phase 1 include a section that goes under the 63rd street line?

Simon November 12, 2014 - 3:32 pm

It connects to the 63 St Line…

lop November 12, 2014 - 8:35 pm

Yes Simon I’m aware. But look at the PDF. In preparation for phase 3 didn’t the MTA dig the 2nd avenue line south of the 63rd line?

BruceNY November 10, 2014 - 1:57 pm

One would think it shouldn’t cost more than Phase 1 considering that a portion of the tunnel already exists. But now there is doubt if they will actually use it!

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2014 - 2:01 pm

Keep in mind though that the tunneling is not driving the high costs. IIRC, the combined cost to tunnel for Phase 1 was only around $250 million (or less). The high costs are due, in part, to the deep-cavern station construction as well as the modern safety requirements for ventilation and emergency access points.

Phantom November 10, 2014 - 2:50 pm

Was there any consideration to using cut and cover for some or all of the SAS? Would it be an option for some of the legs now?

I know that it would be a greater disruption for a time, but wouldn’t it make for a shorter / cheaper project?

As a passenger, I’d much prefer to be closer to the surface in the event of problems, etc.

John-2 November 10, 2014 - 5:25 pm

Some cut-and-cover will be needed in Phase 2, in order to connect the two sections of the line built 40 years ago.

BruceNY November 10, 2014 - 8:42 pm

Well, that’s a very valid point. In fact, I was genuinely surprised how quickly the tunneling from 63rd to 96th was finished. It seems a shame they took out the TBM’s and will someday have to start the whole ‘launchbox’ process all over again. Indeed, they probably could have bored tunnels all the way downtown by now, and then build stations over the next decade.

Alon Levy November 11, 2014 - 7:02 pm

Wait, what? My recollection from reading your posts over the years was that the cost breakdown was roughly 25% for tunneling and 25% for each of the three stations. Or does that first 25% include the launchbox and other ancillary stuff?

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 5:57 pm

Yeah, they really need to just use the existing tunnels north of 96th. This makes for two cut-and-cover projects for the two stations… and worry about 125th St. later.

Alon Levy November 10, 2014 - 4:08 pm

No country is building transit for that cheap. Yes, the prices are inflated, but not by 500-600%.

Really, Ben?


Also, there are a few extra lines not on this list. Stockholm’s subway plan, in particular, is $110 million/km, which means that by Stockholm standards, SAS is inflated not 500% but 1,400%. In Europe, the lines that cost more than about a sixth or a fifth of SAS are considered boondoggles.

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2014 - 4:22 pm

Yes. I was wrong about the differences in costs. Ryan pointed it out before. I’m still stumped as to why and it’s a question I’ve tried to ask over and over again. The best answers I’ve come up with are that contractors are corrupt and intentionally bidding up prices and that the MTA doesn’t have enough expertise in large-scale construction planning to oversee or control costs. After ten years of this, though, the excuses are wearing thin, and if the MTA wants those capital dollars to keep flowing, they’re going to need to address this.

Thomas Graves November 10, 2014 - 5:32 pm

Your supposition is undoubtedly correct. But it’s not just the contractors; it’s the nexus of corrupt contractors plus corrupt & inflexible construction unions plus MTA incompetence (and probably corruption as well) that drives Gotham’s subway construction costs to such stratospheric levels. Tokyo, where I live, is more cramped than Manhattan, and labor costs are expensive too. Environmental constraints are at least as tight. But construction of new deep lines and stations here costs nowhere near what it does in New York. It’s the same old NY story: mob-run industries jack-up costs so high they ultimately choke off the golden goose. New subway lines in NY now cost so much they will never be built. And no NY politician has the guts to even raise the issue. Glad I live where I do.

adirondacker12800 November 10, 2014 - 5:38 pm

Constuction workers making 300K a year with benefits isn’t the problem.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 5:59 pm

Seems about right. The only other city in the US with similarly absurd costs is San Francisco, which has a uniquely dysfunctional patronage & graft system.

Even Chicago does better, and we all know how corrupt Chicago is. Perhaps the Chicago mobs think more long term; they keep their graft down to a sustainable level.

Alon Levy November 12, 2014 - 8:16 pm

Boston’s expensive, too.

Also, Portland and Washington’s construction costs are also enormous relative to how little tunneling they have. The Milwaukie MAX line is light rail, and the Silver Line has short tunnels and a long freeway-median segment. Neither has any excuse to cost about $180 million per km.

In Chicago, the proposed Red Line undergrounding isn’t thaaaat expensive, but the Circle Line is pretty expensive for an above-ground line.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 10:42 pm

Yeah, but that’s not even the same order of magnitude of overpriced.

(1) We already know all English-law countries cost more than non-English-law countries, and this shows up in most of the US.

(2) The Circle Line in Chicago is almost entirely elevated, including a river bridge (probably has to be a drawbridge, actually) and multiple elevated flying junctions. In fact that’s pretty much all it consists of. These are usually especially expensive, making per-km numbers not a reasonable method of assessement.

(3) Since the Big Dig ended, Boston’s cost levels have been dropping (maybe the construction companies were embarassed), and have instead been replaced by very, very, very long delays in getting the projects done. Hmmph.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in Portland and Washington. Portland’s project did get assessed the cost of an entire “signature” river bridge (despite the bridge’s use for a bunch of other purposes), and an alignment on retained fill and bridges leading from downtown to there. DC has no similar excuse.

But NYC and SF are just off the wall, even by English-law country standards, and even compared to DC. Seriously off the wall. Part of this comes from a peculiar determination in San Francisco to design things as badly as they can possibly get away with, which is quite evident in multiple projects.

In New York… it just seems to be construction graft.

adirondacker12800 November 13, 2014 - 12:07 am

Lawyer graft more likely. Lawyer graft for the extensive planning. Lawyer graft for the extensive lawsuits over the planning. Lawyer graft when they have to redo the planning because of the lawsuits. Lawyer graft to make sure that everything everywhere conforms with the arcane regulations. Lawyer graft to defend against the lawsuits filed because even though they followed the arcane regulations there are NIMBYs who will try to delay it that way. Then lawyer graft over the lawsuit that the plans are hopelessly out of date because of the other lawsuits.

Not New York but the suburbs. The Newark Star Ledger estimates that I-78 through Union County cost a million dollars a mile. Having it in a trench cost more than putting it at grade. I’m sure it makes the park more pleasant. The overpasses so the wildlife in the park can go get some nooky on the other side of the highway cost a lot too. But there ain’t a million bucks a mile of concrete and asphalt out there. I suspect there are more billable hours in each foot than there are concrete.

adirondacker12800 November 13, 2014 - 12:08 am

…million a foot. Half a billion a mile.

AG November 12, 2014 - 11:44 pm

Most costs of everything in Chicago are lower than San Fran and NYC… That has nothing to do with the mob thinking long term… Real estate and wages in San Fran (and NYC) are much higher than Chicago because their is more demand relative to supply.

Lady Feliz November 10, 2014 - 1:52 am

Does it smell like pee yet? Because it will.

Quirk November 10, 2014 - 2:05 am

says the guy with a “female” alias.

BenW November 10, 2014 - 11:04 am

Which has exactly what to do with anything?

D in Bushwick November 10, 2014 - 11:12 am

It will never be this clean ever again…

zz November 10, 2014 - 2:25 am

I agree with much of what you’re saying. But a critical question is what share of the cost of these projects was spent below ground vs. above ground. Below ground, money spent on the Fulton Street complex was nearly all functional — the old “rabbit warren” is now significantly easier to navigate, providing real benefits to huge numbers of commuters. Above ground, reasonable people can disagree whether the benefits of these investments are real. But I’d really like to know how the costs were divided across the two categories. I suspect the underground components of the project were the majority of the costs, but I don’t know for sure.

Same for the WTC PATH Hub. Yes, the project was phenomenally expensive. But the underground passenger connections will provide real benefits to very large numbers of passengers. What share of the total costs did they represent?

Chet November 10, 2014 - 6:42 am

I’ve been wondering the same thing.

For the PATH hub, there is no doubt that far, far too much money was spent on Calatrava’s stegosaurus. But for the Fulton Center, the underground was a disaster that has now been untangled. The building seems to be a rather simple design with the exception of the Oculus.

The MTA should have been more bold and built a multi use retail/office/condo/hotel tower above the station as a major income producer for the agency. In any event, both the PA and the MTA will be taking in rent from their downtown projects, but I wonder how many centuries must pass before they recoup the combined $5.5 billion dollars.

Douglas John Bowen November 10, 2014 - 1:05 pm

A piece in Streetsblog NYC Monday, Nov. 10, makes a point similar to that made here by Chet.

Douglas John Bowen November 10, 2014 - 1:08 pm

A piece in Streetsblog NYC Monday, Nov. 10, makes a point similar to that made here by Chet. http://www.streetsblog.org/

AG November 10, 2014 - 6:39 pm

well you can’t just take rent into account… this is a public work… so if it also reduces travel times – which is most likely will – and increases productivity – the payback is pretty quick. It’s not easily quantifiable though. Think of it how the new age tech companies pay for their employees lunches by catering inside. They do it because it improves the mood of their employees and gets them to work harder (not easy to quantify). It keeps them from going outside and keeps them “collaborating” (a big thing in creative industries. They also feed them healthy food in the hopes it will keep them healthy and reduce their health insurance premiums. There are different facets to it.

On another note – that’s why I think the MTA should spend more money to speed up the implementation of CBTC… The amount of productivity time lost to problems due to signalling has to be a HUGE some. Not to mention the obvious increase in capacity.

AG November 10, 2014 - 6:39 pm

meant HUGE “sum” – not “some”

Phantom November 10, 2014 - 8:27 am

Even with the lower level connections ( which don’t make connections easy in all cases, just less bad than the ridiculous warren we had before ) it is an absolute sin that this cost $1.4 billion. Someone should go to jail. The feds should ask for half of it back. If projects like this cost that kind of money, then let’s never do another one.


The Dey Street tunnel is simple and it’s quite wide. It will be be very useful once the whole thing is finished.

The Fulton Center building is kind of beautiful inside. Yes, it will be an instant landmark, and it will be the natural place for people to meet.

Eric F November 10, 2014 - 8:29 am

If you get the chance to respond:

Is the Dey Street Concourse actually open now? If so, what does it connect to on its western end?

Great photos! Those shots of the curved brick work were not images I’ve seen before. Can you let us know where those are in or around the complex?

I have to make my own foray over there soon, it looks awesome!

BoerumHillScott November 10, 2014 - 8:54 am

The Dey passage is open, I walked through it this morning.
On the west end, there are faregates on the left and right that lead to R platform stairs and R platform elevators.
No free exit, but you can tell where the opening to WTC will be, hopefully next month.

Eric F November 10, 2014 - 8:58 am


Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2014 - 10:09 am

As Scott noted, Eric, Dey St is open.

The curved brick shows the inverted arches that form the foundation for the Corbin Building. I’ll have more on that later this week.

Eric F November 10, 2014 - 1:53 pm

Thanks, looking forward to it.

Ryan November 10, 2014 - 8:31 am

One minor point concerning the 1/E/R/PATH connections from outside of Fulton to inside of Fulton:

It’s just too bad that we’ve forgotten how to program out-of-system transfers into the faregates. Too, too bad.

Herb Lehman November 10, 2014 - 9:45 am

I walked through the new building this morning and I had the exact same thoughts as Benjamin describes in this post.

It’s a nice building, and the wider 4/5 platforms and somewhat easier A/C access are great, and I guess the passageway to the R is a nice feature, but at the end of the day, that seems to be the sum total of a dozen years of inconvenience and billions of dollars.

It increases the capacity of the 4/5, which is loaded about to capacity during the AM rush hour, by exactly zero. It brings no new service to the station. And there’s no retail, so the MTA can’t even make any money off it. That’s really too bad.

I really wish we could reverse the trend of spending billions of dollars on transit projects that have little to no benefit to everyday commuters. The Fulton Transit Center is one example. Then there’s the PATH station Ben keeps mentioning, which is less functional than the one it is replacing. The 63rd St/Lex F station, which is so far underground that one could travel almost to Elmhurst, Queens in the time it takes to escape through its one way out (soon to be two). And although not an MTA example, there’s also the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, which looks gorgeous but is so ill-designed for boarding large crowds that delays have skyrocketed since it replaced the (admittedly awful) old terminal. I understand fully that grant money has to be spent a certain way, but it seems there have been so many missed opportunities…

Michael November 10, 2014 - 4:00 pm

“And although not an MTA example, there’s also the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, which looks gorgeous but is so ill-designed for boarding large crowds that delays have skyrocketed since it replaced the (admittedly awful) old terminal.”

Do you have any idea of what you’re talking about?

The current Whitehall Ferry Terminal is the basic “box within a box” design for train, bus ferry and other transportation facilities. The “box within a box” design is meant to separate the arriving stream of riders from the out-going stream, by having the outgoing stream using a waiting room before boarding the vehicles. The “box within a box” design is a standard architectural functional design – even the Grand Central Terminal uses the “box within a box” design. Both the current and previous edition of the St. George Ferry terminal uses the “box within a box” design.

The 1990’s Whitehall Temporary Terminal used a modified “box within a box” because the Main Waiting Room (of the 1950’s terminal) had been destroyed by the fire in 1991. This temporary terminal had to use the remaining outside ramps for the stream of folks leaving the boats. The original terminal (from 1905) simply deposited ferry riders directly to the streets after the removal of the over-the-street elevated subway lines. There was no direct accommodated connections between the ferries and subway transit, like there was for the elevated trains.

The Staten Island Ferry terminals from day one – 1905 – used the main deck of the boats for passengers and vehicles, and an upper deck for passengers. A fact evident from historical photos of the earliest Staten Island ferries, and from the design of the terminal. Look at the Battery Maritime Building which now houses the Governor’s Island Ferry. Prior to the 1950’s, there was a twin building used for the Staten Island Ferry. Ever wonder why there are so many doors on the SECOND level of those structures? Simple – they were there because of the direct access from the Second/Third/Sixth/Ninth Avenue Elevated Trains and the South Ferry Elevated Terminal!

Let’s see – we have elevated trains on a high level that meets ferries on a high level that meet the second level of the ferry boats for people, while people and vehicles use the lower main level. Oops, there’s one problem – the second level of the early ferry boats was not as developed or plentiful. Over time – oops! There are no more elevated trains. Is that “ill-design” or a mis-match?

A review of the Municipal picture archives shows the 1905 complex. The nearby subway stations were never connected to the original ferry terminal buildings. I’ve found a few external pictures within the Municipal archives. The internal picture that I saw of this LONG GONE ferry terminal was of a single stairway and news-stand to the waiting room. On the other hand ferry service was frequent which might explain a smaller waiting room. The Wikipedia article on this original terminal confuses it with the 1950’s design and construction. One day I will correct that omission, when I can add the pictures from the Municipal Archives. External pictures of old buildings are often easier to find.

The building of a new ferry terminal in the early 1950’s with the curving ramp, etc – used the same piers as the original ferry 1905 terminal on the same spot. Slips 1 & 2 were directly connected to this building, with Slip #3 connected by a separate passageway closer to the Battery Maritime Building. The barely air-conditioned waiting room had the usual amenities – a bar, newstand, restrooms, food places, and plenty of wooden benches! And a single escalator to reach the waiting room. Of course it needs to be said that this 1950’s terminal (yes, that’s the one that was burnt down in 1991) did not easily connect with any of the nearby subways or bus lines. Riders using the BMT station at Whitehall Street to cross a couple of streets to use the subway, because the station entrances/exits were some distance AWAY from the terminal building. Would that be described as “ill-designed”?

Using South Ferry Shuttle train and #1 train riders meant exiting to the outside to use the ferries. Of course this meant using the “old” #1 exit/entrance located in a cramped space under the curving ramp, where both in-coming and out-going streams of riders regularly clashed because there was a SINGLE stairway to the platform, and very few exit/entrance doors to the station! Finding pictures of the #1 South Ferry station entrance prior to the 1950’s terminal has been difficult. I do not know if there as a head-house (like Bowling Green) or what existed then. It is indeed possible that the 1950’s entrance improved upon what existed prior to that terminal. Calling the “original” South Ferry subway station – “ill-designed” is a no-brainer, folks have been doing that for decades. (It is nostalgia that says that these kinds of cramped stairways, spaces and entrances were GOOD as some transit fans seem to believe.)

The non-air-conditioned 1990’s Whitehall Temporary Terminal having to use the remains of the burnt down (1950’s terminal) brought about the idea of re-thinking the entire transit complex at South Ferry! In fact, the “waiting room” of the not-so-temporary 1990’s terminal was the ENTRANCE and the turn-style area of the 1950’s terminal! Into that small temporary space many needs had to be accommodated while a new terminal was on the drawing boards. Was the temporary terminal “ill-designed” or was it the produced of a forced hand – the 1991 fire that destroyed the full terminal building?

The new design for a new ferry terminal that involved the nearby subway stations, new bus-shelters, new parkland, new bike-paths and the ferries would be integrated into a truly functional whole. The destruction of the 1950’s terminal in 1991 allowed for the re-conception of the whole area.

The simple fact is it took almost two decades with the usage of the not-so-temporary terminal, the chaos of the construction of the new ferry terminal, the construction of the new subway terminal, and construction of plaza to see the results. Just who KNEW that there was an old colonial fort under the complex?

The 2004 Whitehall Ferry Terminal and the new Peter Minuet Plaza transformed the space into a much better facility. For example, SBS buses were not an idea when the designs for the plaza were made – look at how easily the SBS M-15 was added to the complex. The new South Ferry #1 terminal with its connection to the R-train at the Whitehall Street station was not included in the original designs for the plaza, but was “easily” added to the design! Was that adaptability an “ill-design”?

If one compares the foot-print of the old terminals to the current one – it is easy to see that the current Whitehall Terminal is much larger than the previous one. The southern-most stairways to the R-train Whitehall Street station – still at their original position – were across a couple of small streets from the 1950’s/1991 terminal.

The 2004 edition of the terminal included the first ever internal passageway between the #1 train and the ferry boats. The idea of building a new #1 ferry terminal was in the concept plans, but that would not actually take place until after 9/11, ten years later. Yes, there were arguments about whether to include or not include cars/trucks on the ferries and related accommodations by the new 2004 terminal within the design phase of the new terminal. A debate that continues with each new design for the ferry boats – since Staten Island continues to have few transportation and transit options.

Functionally the current fully air-conditioned Whitehall Ferry Terminal accommodates incoming and out-going streams of ferry riders, folks who use the bikes, the buses, taxis, and subways. While it remains that subway/ferry riders must duck outside the ferry terminal building to use the subways – that has been a feature or nuisance since 1905! Of course except for a small bit of time for #1 subway riders from 2004-2009! The new #1 South Ferry Subway Terminal connects to the old South Ferry station, and brought about THREE new entrances/exits with MORE Metro-Card machines, full ADA access (which never existed in any of the prior editions), a free-fare connection with the R-train Whitehall Street.

Yes, the current 2014 Whitehall Ferry Terminal is using the “Old #1 South Ferry Terminal” because Hurricane Sandy extremely damaged the new 2009 subway terminal, and folks have to scurry around to make the boats. Like that is somewhere WORSE than the 1990’s with the single stair, the single entrance under the cramped curving ramp! If the ferries were more frequent the scurrying for the boats would not be so dire! Waiting an hour for a ferry has I’ve had to do for 25 years of ferry riding was NEVER EVER pleasant!

Can the ferry and subway connections be made easier? Not really, the MTA is running frequent service on its various lines – combining that with the ferry schedules is a tall order on the Manhattan side. On the Staten Island side, due to the ferry schedule it is easier to coordinate the buses and SIR trains.

Boarding procedures for the boats have changed due to 9/11 security concerns – which resulted in changes in the design and usage of the terminal building. Security minded folk often really PREFER folks having limited means of entrance and egress. For a period of time during the free-fare period but before the renovation of the terminals one could board the boats directly from the SI parking lots, and walk onto the main level of the boats. Now there are requirements for riders to pass through the turn-styles for boarding (ridership counts), but then that was the same when there was a fare on the boats. When there was a fare charged for the ferry, riders HAD to enter the waiting room through the turn-styles – something not really different from today.

Tourists on the boats used to be tolerable, but now that EVERYONE has to leave the boats can making boarding trouble-some, since those folks don’t really understand that they have to LEAVE the boats. Is that a design issue? I doubt it.

I remain convinced that there needs to be MORE SEATS inside the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, but the reduction of the hourly ferries on Saturday and Sunday evenings has made the situation much more tolerable! While the number of seats could be a design issue, the ability to access all three slips from the same waiting room is a plus!

Ill-designed is a really interesting but a bad word! I flat-out disagree that the current 2004 Whitehall Ferry Terminal, even in its 2014 edition is “ill-designed”. While many of the aims of the original designers have been realized (and some have not), and that those designs have been extended to account for changes – the facility is not “ill-designed” by any stretch of the imagination. In consideration of past editions of the “Staten Island Ferry” terminal – this one is much better designed!


Larry Littlefield November 10, 2014 - 9:46 am

I told my wife, who has been living with the perpetual construction where she works for 13 years, that the Fulton Transit Center was opening. She told me I was full of…

Larry Littlefield November 10, 2014 - 9:23 pm

I asked my wife what she thought of the new Fulton Transit Center. She said she didn’t see any difference (she has been exiting directly up the same stair to Nassau for 30 years).

Phantom November 10, 2014 - 11:53 pm

For us R train types, the difference is very minimal.

If we’re walking to Cortlandt St station from the east when its raining, we can duck indoors before Broadway.

There are elevators on the north side of both R platforms.

That’s our share of the $1.4 billion.

At 7pm or so tonight, two passengers asked a guard by the R station which way they should walk to catch the PATH. The guard said that he had no idea, since ” they weren’t connected yet ” .

I’m so not sure that this was worth the money, or half this amount of money.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 6:06 pm

FWIW, apparently each elevator retrofit costs anywhere from $1 to $10 million (depending on complexity) and each stair replacement costs around $200K. It adds up.

lop November 12, 2014 - 8:40 pm

2015-2019 MTA budgets 561 million to add elevators and make 13 stations ADA compliant.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 10:46 pm

The cost tends to be per elevator shaft. The easy stations can be handled with one or two elevators.

(Smith & 9th Street Station could have been handled with two elevators, with a little creative headhouse construction by the MTA, but the MTA came up with bogus excuses to not do that.)

The difficult stations can require six or more elevators.

Without counting the number of elevators required, there’s no way to get a good handle on what ADA access for a station “should” cost.

Berk32 November 10, 2014 - 11:31 am

It’s interesting how much of the work at the east end of the complex is ignored (mainly since it’s mostly been done for years). The 2/3 portion has been done since 2007 (including an elevator from platform to mezz that was inactive for years since it served no purpose until the new mini head-house at Fulton and William was completed (And even then it took months for that elevator to get turned on).
(And did I mention that the train time info on the 2/3 at Fulton was only turned on about a month ago?)

A LOT of work had to be done to make the entire station ADA compliant, and the downtown area needed 1 fully compliant station – being in the center of everything.

While I agree that $ needs to be spent to increase service – this was needed to improve service beyond the actual trains.

(and they should do well with the retail space… at least the ‘waste’ isn’t anywhere near as bad as the PATH station)

Douglas John Bowen November 10, 2014 - 1:02 pm

Someone sensitive to ADA issues pointed out to me early this day that folks like him will now, in fact, be able to use Fulton Street stations, thereby belying the oft-asserted notion that no new riders will result.

Granted, that may not be the same as total ridership. But an ADA-compliant station is something maybe many of us “temporarily fully-abled” folks don’t think about often (or often enough).

Rob November 10, 2014 - 2:53 pm

Maybe we think abt it TOO often, given the huge sums for $ involved for the relatively tiny # of people it benefits. Compared to how many people that could benefit from alternative projects. [yes, I know, congress in its infinite wisdom has made decrees in this area.]

Eric November 11, 2014 - 10:43 am

Congress only required “reasonable” accommodations for the disabled, not disabled access at any possible cost. Given how much construction costs in NYC these days, it would probably be cheaper to provide free taxi rides for everyone in wheelchairs than to invest in making stations accessible to them. Wheelchair users are only 1/200 of the US population, and a high proportion of those are in assisted-living homes or similar and make many fewer trips than the average person.

Michael November 12, 2014 - 2:34 am

Just a couple of points:

1) Not too long ago, it was proposed that there would be “separate but equal” facilities for “those people”. The stark reality was that “separate was never equal”. The reality of the Access-A-Ride services is utterly appalling, and has been for years. It is interesting how often these days some folks want to go back to those days.

2) There is the mistaken impression that facilities for the disabled – the folks you’re suggesting use taxis – only help the disabled. Facilities such as curb-cuts in the sidewalks, ramps, elevators, as well as accessible train cars often help plenty of people who are not disabled in a clinical sense, but who appreciate the ease of access.

3) Yes, the subways were developed for “able-bodied” folk who can easily manage stairways and crowded trains – making it harder to adapt for the wheel-chair-bound, the wheel-chair-bound is not the only group of folks that have difficulty using the subways.

There are plenty of elderly, and “not-so-elderly” folk, and others who find the subways and buses easier to use and manage when attention is paid to modifying and developing transit to meet their mobility needs.


Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 6:09 pm

Eric: if New York had required all taxis to be accessible to the disabled, your suggestions might actually make sense. Here in the real world, your suggestions do not make sense.

In fact, nearly all the taxis in New York are NOT wheelchair-accessible, and disabled people had to file multiple lawsuits against the city just to get the city to ALLOW more wheelchair-accessible taxis.

This makes it very clear what the problem is: the problem is a BAD ATTITUDE from city government, and from people like you.

Did you even bother to do your research regarding the state of taxis in New York City before you made your ignorant comment?

lop November 12, 2014 - 8:48 pm

All taxis should be wheelchair accessible. It’s ridiculous that the taxi of tomorrow wasn’t by default. A mandate that all new taxis accommodate wheelchairs would take a few years to help, but by 2020 you could have a mostly accessible fleet couldn’t you? How long are taxis typically on the road?

MTA retrofitting existing stations with elevators is a slow expensive mess – 13 stations for 561 million 2015-2019.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 10:54 pm

London started introducing wheelchair-accessible taxis in 1985, mandated wheelchair-accessible taxis in 1989, and the entire fleet was wheelchair-accessible by the early 1990s (1991, I think).

Most autos are only kept for 10 years; but taxis… well, it turns out that New York REQUIRES that they be retired after 5 years.


Ҥ3-02 Vehicle Retirement.
(a) The following requirements shall apply to all vehicles hacked-up on or after March 1, 1996:
(1) A vehicle which is double-shifted and not driven by at least one longterm driver, as defined in section 1-01 of this title, for any period of time on or after March 1, 1997, and is not in service solely as an authorized stand-by vehicle from the time the vehicle is hacked-up, must be retired from taxicab service and replaced no later than the first scheduled inspection of the vehicle occurring 36 months after the vehicle was hacked-up.
(2) All other vehicles must be retired from taxicab service and replaced no later than the first scheduled inspection of the vehicle occurring 60 months after the vehicle was hacked-up.”

(Thanks to http://boards.straightdope.com.....p?t=557930 )

If NYC introduced a wheelchair-accessible taxi mandate in 2015, the entire fleet would be accessible in 2020. And most of it would be accessible in 2018.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 10:57 pm

…and most of the Access-A-Ride budget could be replaced with much cheaper taxi vouchers.

There’s some sort of *hostility* to the disabled in New York government. Mandating that all new taxis be accessible would help everyone and save government money. But noooooo.

Vinny O'Hare November 10, 2014 - 11:37 am

So the walkway to the R train is outside of fare control. I would expect this to be loaded with homeless just like the underground was from 34th and 6th to 42nd and 6th was before they closed it off.

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2014 - 11:43 am

Westfield is in charge with maintenance and security. That alone pretty much guarantees the areas of the head house and Dey St. concourse outside of fare control will not be replete with homeless residents.

Vinny O'Hare November 10, 2014 - 11:45 am

Good to know Ben

What is funny is you can get on at a new station and go one stop on the J and city one of the worst stations in City Hall.

Jeff November 10, 2014 - 1:28 pm

Based on what I saw this morning, and knowing how Westfield has run the security at the West Concourse at the PATH station, they will have security guards stationed there permanently, which relieve this problem.

adirondacker12800 November 10, 2014 - 2:34 pm

and the city is a somewhat different place than when they closed the concourse between 42nd and 34th.

BrooklyBus November 10, 2014 - 4:29 pm

Why would they choose to not make it a free transfer? That woukd greatly increase the flexibility of the system when there is a blockage.

Larry Littlefield November 10, 2014 - 8:23 pm

So those just walking across Lower Manhattan can have an out of the weather passageway with no traffic lights from the river to William Street.

JJJJ November 10, 2014 - 11:47 am

Its easy to call anything an unneeded waste of money. Does Grand Central need to be so grand? Why doesnt the statue of liberty actually do anything? The empire state building would have been cheaper with a flat top. Central park would bring in more revenue as condos.

Spending public money for public monuments is what makes great cities great.

Phantom November 10, 2014 - 11:56 am

And allowing the unions and contractors to rob us blind ensures the very few public monuments and services get built.

This thing cost twice an already fat price tag.

Does anyone know any -valid- reason why this is so?

Ryan November 10, 2014 - 3:40 pm

Well you see, America is at something of a crossroads, and NYC is a microcosm of that.

Right now we’re stuck between two paths because we’ve yet to arrive at a consensus. To our right, we have the road that leads to the World of Reason – a place where we’ve resolved to control our costs and aggressively work to actually keep costs in line with global standards. Down this path lies perhaps better use of the funding we receive, but not necessarily any more of it, and the road that goes there is not without its own pitfalls – to start with, we can’t go there until we institute a global freeze on existing construction. ESA work stops tomorrow morning, 2AS work stops tomorrow morning, and not a single shovelful of dirt gets moved until we all have some answers as to just how things went so wrong with ESA, with 2AS, with Fulton, with every damn project that’s been built and is being built – because it’s the same tired story by now, the same sad song of overruns upon overruns upon already too-huge budgets, no matter what the project began life as or who it impacted. As with any aggressive maneuver, calling for a global suspension of construction work isn’t liable to earn you many friends. Not only that, but there’s no guarantee that the answers we find on the other side of the courtroom doors are going to be pleasant or easily addressed. So, while it’s not out of the question that we could make the decision to get from here to there, nobody is saying (nobody should be saying) that it’s going to be easy.

So instead, we have the path to our left, the one that New York moves closer to every day. Down this road is the World of Desire, where the money flows like water and people don’t even blink at 10-figure price tags for things like new “statement” stations (see Fulton, see also Moynihan.) If we commit to going that way, we commit to never having “reasonable” costs attached to projects again – but who cares? By making that commitment we’ve resolved to run this city like we run any other government, with deficit spending and budgets made up of cartoonishly overblown figures that remind me of the end of a game of Monopoly with my 6-year-old nephew. The conservative’s worst nightmare, in other words – but, then again, does the amount of debt even matter to a government? It’s not a person, it’s not a business, and it’s not nearly as easy to collect on the city as it is to collect on Joe New York if he decides to stop paying off his credit cards.

Ultimately, even before we decide how we’re going to address our cost control problem, we’re going to have to decide whether it’s even a problem. We could very well arrive at the consensus I somewhat sarcastically suggested we’d already arrived at earlier this morning (and it wasn’t the first time I’ve suggested such) – that things are all just going to cost 5 or 6 or 8 or 10 times more than what they “should” because American/Northeast/NYC exceptionalism, or something, and just divide out the exceptional cost multiplier to have a discussion about the price of things based on numbers approaching “realistic.”

I can’t make the choice for everyone, but the more I think about it and the more I come back to projects that don’t even pretend to be on a schedule anymore (East Side Access, The Greatest Show On Earth), the more I find the appeal in the World of Desire. There aren’t many people alive who can even conceptualize and relate to $100 million or $1 billion or $10 billion project budgets – to Joe Average, who might some day have a net worth of $1 million when he retires if he’s lucky, what’s the difference between 100 and 1000 and 10000 times more money than he’s ever going to have in his life? Not even the hyper-wealthy live up to that cliche of swimming in a pool filled with money. When it stops being real, when it’s lines on a spreadsheet and not something physical you hold in your hand, and when there’s no singular individual you can even collect against – why does it matter how many zeroes are tacked on the end of your comedy slapstick budget? It might as well all be Monopoly money.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 6:12 pm

Well, I would say that the choice of Reason is the path to the *left*, and the World of Desire is the path to the right.

The “but who cares?” attitude is certainly the path which the Republican Party has supported for the last 30 years, starting with Reagan’s “deficits don’t matter” policies. They’ve won so many elections on their fantasyland promises of free stuff and no taxes that Democrats have started to copy them.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 10:58 pm

Also see the Republican Party fantasies of endless abiotic oil, a magical self-fixing environment where water cleans itself, etc.

Ryan November 13, 2014 - 7:43 am

Endless abiotic oil is actually a science fantasy more than it is a political fantasy, although it isn’t out of the question that we could with sufficient resources (resources which might fast become available on the day that we do run out of oil…) invent a means by which to synthesize the stuff from waste product. Actually, as a devout preacher of the power of humanity to, through science and engineering, defy and adjust the natural order of things to whatever the hell we want it to be, I have no doubt that the very first planet to get successfully terraformed will in fact be Planet Earth. Guilt is a powerful motivator, you see, as is the threat of losing your one and only home in the universe – and as good as being environmentally conscious and conducting ourselves in a sustainable manner is, gaining the power to reverse, negate, or otherwise undo the damage we cause to the world is even better because having that power makes everything sustainable.

I do see your point, though.

adirondacker12800 November 13, 2014 - 12:44 pm

A significant fraction of them believe He created it on the the third day around 6,000 years ago.

Clarke November 10, 2014 - 12:23 pm

Grand Central and Empire State Building built with private money. Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French.

Jeff November 10, 2014 - 1:40 pm

The benefit from the Transit Center (and the Transportation Hub) was only partially about transportation. It was more about being able to spearhead the revitalization of what was a pretty crappy part of Lower Manhattan. As someone who’s worked downtown for a decade I can personally attest to how much the area has changed in the last 7-8 years.

That stretch of Broadway, as well as the surrounding area looks to be turning into a top-notch retail destination vs its former self as a stretch of dingy shops and old, broken down buildings. And its spurring other developers in the vicinity to renovate their ground floors and provide top notch retail spaces.

Yes, the area might have/could have changed a bit without this stimulus, but most definitely not to the extent that it has now. Especially considering how many square feet of retail the Hub will be adding there.

Larry Littlefield November 10, 2014 - 1:52 pm

I worked downtown from in 1984 and 1985 and 1988 to 2004. My wife worked there in 1984, and 1985 to the present.

Not only has Downtown never recovered from 9/11, it has never been as vital as it was in the 1980s — before hundreds of thousands of back office jobs were automated or outsourced out of existence.

The area has been a construction zone, non-stop, since 9/11. Nassau Street is a shadow of what it was.

We can only hope that this opening and the migration of creative industries downtown could be the start of a true rebirth. Since the employees of those industries are more likely to prefer central locations, and thus their companies may find Downtown more competitive with Midtown, with its superior suburban access.

Tower18 November 10, 2014 - 2:56 pm

It is a good point about the relative accessibility of downtown to a different subset of people than Midtown.

For instance, commute times to the Fulton St. area vs. Times Square:

95th Bay Ridge: 38 min vs. 56 min (assuming one-seat ride)
Flatbush/Bk College: 31 min vs. 47 min
Euclid Av: 23/30 min (A/C) vs. 37/43 min (A/C)
Woodhaven Blvd J/Z: 40 min vs. 50 min

It’s not a bad thing to spread out office density (since the infrastructure already exists!) and spreading out the “accessible neighborhoods” to include currently “far-flung” places. Flatbush and Bay Ridge in particular have DRAMATIC differences (I know no one rides the R all the way to Midtown from Bay Ridge, but if more riders had downtown as their destination, that lightens loads on the N and D for everyone else).

Ryan November 13, 2014 - 8:36 am

I have a huge issue with the R’s local-local-local operation, to be perfectly honest with you. I don’t think it has a real good reason for operating over the Broadway Local tracks when there’s room for it on the express tracks. Ideally, it should assume the Q routing to Astoria once the Q starts using 2 Av, and operate local-express up to Astoria. (Bring back the W and run W Broadway Locals over the R’s vacated Queens Boulevard slots.)

Jeff November 10, 2014 - 3:49 pm

I think you points certainly apply well to Downtown’s continued existence as a CBD, and the WTC developments should help with that. But what’s new to this area is something that has really accelerated in recent years (last 3-4 years?) and that is the conversion of much of the commercial space to residential and retail space. The conversion is what is really revitalizing downtown, and making the area much less of a ghost town during off-hours, as well as making it a much more livable neighborhood.

With the varied retail and booming residential construction going on, the area is well on its way to coming back as a modern mixed-use community as well as a more attractive area to live and to work. I think the money invested in the Fulton Center undoubtedly contributed to that.

BruceNY November 11, 2014 - 2:09 pm

I just overheard two people (on 2nd Ave. in the E. 60’s) discussing how another friend of theirs had recently moved Downtown, and loves it because “everything is so close by”. These two seemed to agree that the area is very a desirable one in which to live these days. A close friend of mine used to live in “FiDi”, loved it, and would move back in a heartbeat if he could only afford it.

AG November 10, 2014 - 4:38 pm

In an unprecedented move Saks is opening a second full price store in a city. They are opening down there (as well as their off price store)….. Nordstrom is hunting down there too and their midtown store hasn’t even opened yet. You are or react that downtown is changing.

Phantom November 10, 2014 - 1:52 pm


Yes there have been huge private and public investments in lower Manhattan since 9/11 and more are on the way.

Which will continue to bear fruit, more and more.

BruceNY November 10, 2014 - 1:56 pm

Well, if nothing else, we must remember that at one point the design for the headhouse was more futuristic and ambitious. But once the costs started spiraling out of control the MTA did change the design in order to try and offset the increases. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall the PA every having a similar reality check with the Calatrava project.

Now about keeping it clean . . .

BoerumHillScott November 10, 2014 - 2:06 pm

The WTC Transit Center got scaled back several times, including major design changes for the signature building and the addition of columns in spaces that originally were going to be column-free.

On the other hand, the PA had to spend more money to meet the timelines of the 9/11 Memorial.

On a percentage basis, both projects had similar amounts of cost increase, time delays, and features cut.

AG November 10, 2014 - 4:32 pm

But they have a big diff in usefulness…. As relates to passengers who will use it.

AG November 10, 2014 - 4:23 pm

I have no problem with Fulton… It’s PATH that is too much.

jafo November 10, 2014 - 6:24 pm

The NYTimes had this animation from 2007 showing how the Fulton Center would connect the maze of subways and PATH.

(yes, they thought it would be done by 2009 -snicker all you want)


Rich B November 11, 2014 - 9:00 am

Could someone please enlighten me as to why the Dey St Connector is outside of fare control? I apologize if this is common knowledge; I thought I had been following the project closely, but I’m just learning that the R is not a free transfer, (so perhaps not as closely as I thought.) Thanks!

Michael November 11, 2014 - 11:14 am

Because the idea is to create an underground concourse connecting the Fulton Street Transit Center and the World Trade Center and its various buildings on the complex.

Contrary to many architectural pictures – NYC is simply not bright and sunny every day of the week, month or year. Plenty of places and cities like Toronto, Montreal, Rockefeller Center, etc. have underground concourses that connect several buildings. These underground concourses often have shopping and other facilities that contribute to a whole better environment.

There are some transit fans who seem to wish to “connect” every thing together in one large “fare-zone”. The former World Trade Center had lovely underground concourses with shops, banks, and various transit facilities (E-train, 1-train, PATH, etc) that allowed folks to freely travel among these places and the offices and hotel buildings.

The current idea is a more organized unified understandable whole, rather than a “kit-bashed” project.



AG November 11, 2014 - 11:36 am

Yeah – and there should be an undergound concourse at 138th St. in The Bronx between 3rd Ave. and the Grand Concourse so people could get between the 4/5 and the 6 – without having to go outside and pay another fare – or go to Harlem to make the reverse trip. Of course it’s not Manhattan so…..

David P November 12, 2014 - 8:28 am

So I went to check out the Dey St passage by entering on the R station side. The booth clerk told me the only way in was to pay a fair, then go into the tunnel. Does it only exit today in the R station fare zone, but eventually will connect to Path station outside of fair zone? I’ll need to explore from the Fulton St side next attempt.

Nathanael November 12, 2014 - 6:19 pm

Correct. The outside-fare-zone exit to the Dey St. passageway on the west side is supposed to be inside the porcupine, which isn’t open yet.

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