Home PANYNJ Thoughts on the eve of the opening of the WTC PATH Hub

Thoughts on the eve of the opening of the WTC PATH Hub

by Benjamin Kabak

The public will get its first view of the Calatrava train station when the Port Authority opens its Oculus at 3 p.m. today. (Photo via @WTCProgress)

Later today, at around 3 p.m., some of the World Trade Center PATH Hub’s Oculus building will open to the public. It’s a $4 billion project that has been delayed for years, and its opening is almost a sigh of relief rather than a celebratory moment. What’s clear is that the Port Authority is overstating the building’s importance and using ridership figures from the soon-to-be connecting Fulton St. subway station to bolster the projections of the number of people who may pass through the Hub’s free passageways. What’s also clear is that I’ve used the Hub as a whipping boy, fairly or not, for the region’s inability to prioritize and spend properly.

Over the past few years, I’ve been accused of being unable to see the forest for the trees. As some commenters have stated, they feel I wouldn’t be happy unless we build utilitarian boxes a la grungy Penn Station and spend the billions on capacity and capacity alone. To defend myself, I don’t believe that’s true. We should be able to build great public spaces while also expanding transit capacity at the same time, but I don’t have a magic formula in mind. Can we spend $1 billion — an absurd amount by itself — on architecture to every $3 billion we spend on expansion? That seems reasonable, but for $4 billion, we’re getting great architecture with no expansion. That’s where I draw the line.

Today is essentially the last day for us to really take stock of the PATH Hub. Once it opens and becomes a part of the fabric of New York City rather than a construction site, we forget about the problems, the delays, the costs. Still, as future generations of New Yorkers look to expand our transportation footprint and even as a few miles up north, Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares for a $3 billion overhaul of Penn Station that may or may not accompany an increase in capacity, we can draw lessons from the Calatrava Hub. As soon-to-depart PA head Patrick Foye has noted, with transit dollars so scarce, it’s important not to waste them.

I’m not going to link to every review, good or bad, that comes out about the PATH Hub over the next few days, and eventually, I’ll make my way over there to be dazzled by the blinding brightness of a $4 billion building made out of steel fabricated in Italy. I do think that Paul Goldberger’s review in Vanity Fair is worth the read, but a few paragraphs in particular stood out to me. Architecturally, Goldberger compares its impact to the Saarinen TWA terminal and writes of the space:

The Oculus…is the exhilarating nave of a genuine people’s cathedral. It is a room that soars; under a great arc of glass, Calatrava has put together curving ribs of steel to make a space that is uplifting, full of light and movement, and capable of inspiring something that has been in particularly short supply at Ground Zero, which is hope.

I’m not saying that to suggest that the Hub is a monument to the noblest ambitions of humankind. It is, after all, a train station bred to a shopping mall, and unlike Grand Central Terminal, where most of the shopping and restaurants are tucked into secondary spaces, at the World Trade Center the stores ring the monumental space. This place cost billions of dollars of public money, and it’s still a shrine to the commercial marketplace. I wish it were otherwise. But that doesn’t destroy the impact of the architecture, or negate the fact that this is the first time in a half a century that New York City has built a truly sumptuous interior space for the benefit of the public…

Back when the 9/11 memorial opened a few years ago, I recall Michael Bloomberg saying something to the effect that people only complain about cost and delays when a project is underway; that once it is done, if it is any good, they forget all of that and pay attention to the thing itself. The Transportation Hub and its Oculus will put the Bloomberg Doctrine to a test, but I suspect it will pass, and that a couple of years from now, we will be hearing not about what this thing cost or about how long it took to build, but about how much people like walking through it. I certainly hope so, since nothing would be worse than to have it provoke a backlash against spending money on infrastructure. At a time when this country spends far less on public works than it should, the Hub is a rare exception to the trend. Its best legacy would be to encourage us to take more chances, and to recognize that investing in the public realm isn’t throwing away money. It is investing in the future, a gift from our generation to the ones that follow.

I appreciate Goldberger’s words, and as I chewed them over throughout the day on Wednesday, I worried that we might forget the transportation element of this project. We certainly do need to spend on public works and integrate them into our transportation infrastructure. After all, a nicer train station is one that draws people to the services it offers, but at the same time, we cannot invest all of the public money in form over function. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that’s what happened at the World Trade Center site. Let’s build great public spaces without sacrificing all of the dollars to the need for beauty as without expansion we will go and grow nowhere.

You may also like


Eric March 3, 2016 - 4:09 am

“At a time when this country spends far less on public works than it should, the Hub is a rare exception to the trend.”

Or in other words: We don’t spend money on things that we need, but at least we spend money on things we don’t need!

Brandon March 3, 2016 - 6:21 am

How much of the $4 billion actually went into the showy architecture anyway as opposed to the basic nuts and bolts of the station?

Jeff March 3, 2016 - 8:06 am

There is a ton of back of house space that the money went to, including spaces that support the WTC towers and other parts of the site. There are also a suite of PATH offices south of the station that was part of the project.

Basically the project not only builds the mall and the station but also fills in the gaps between all the other projects there.

It’s true the architecture did bump up the cost significantly. For example the need to have wide open spaces made it necessary to build a bunch of bridge like structures underground (including a 200-foot bridge span that’s carrying the 1 train). And the architectural steel isn’t cheap either. But I have to say a lot of that $4 billion would have been needed anyway, because it’s a large site that demands a ton of infrastructure.

Larry Littlefield March 3, 2016 - 9:54 am

The site-wide costs should be disaggregated.

The Port Authority has implied that it is dumping a lot of agency-wide costs into the PATH. If true, that should be documented and the costs put where they belong.

Jeff March 3, 2016 - 12:13 pm

Its not that simple though – all of this work is managed under the Hub contract, and performed by its contractors, so it’s not a matter of just taking the non-PATH costs out, because the divide isn’t very cut and dry.

Michael549 March 3, 2016 - 12:21 pm

Most people, critics and media simply do not care about “infrastructure” – it is BORING!!

Most “infrastructure” projects do not generate glowing pictures for the media age, but infrastructure provides the essential support and services to the beautiful stuff that can be seen. Plenty of times “infrastructure” is underground and difficult to see, but that does not mean it is less important.

Similar to Grand Central station it is the “head house” that gets the majority of the publicity photos and media. The extensive complex of tracks, platforms, utilities and other extensive services – all necessary to support the station and the array of nearby buildings and places. When Grand Central Station is talked about – it is the ornate head house that gets the pictures and applause, as if the real infrastructure that supports and services the whole operation might as well not exist.

Similarly, here the Calatrava Hub “head house” was just ONE PART, and not even a huge part of the spending of $4 billion dollars. Every body who had actual understanding of the project knew that, including media folk that cared to look closely.

There was and remains a big effort to equate the Calatrava Hub with the $4 Billion spent, as if the extensive un-seen but very important infrastructure that connects, services and supports the whole operation which the $4 Billion paid for might as well not exist.

Headlines here and in other places that said and repeat: “They spent $4 Billion For ONE Station!” – give rise to that equation.

It is similar to the notion that the millions or billions of money and man-hours spent on creating, extending and supporting the Internet and its underlying infrastructure and the rise personal computing devices of all types — were all in the effort to help folks play “Candy Crush” and “Twitter”!


NFA March 3, 2016 - 1:10 pm

Grand Central Terminal

22r March 3, 2016 - 4:17 pm

Not exactly on topic, but your comment reminded me of how everyone always talks about how amazing GCT is and how terrible Penn Station is. Yet the actual experience of getting on and off a train at GCT is exactly like Penn: you enter like a rat, into a dank, low-ceiling, poorly designed train platform. Yes, the beautiful “head house” of GCT helps, but compared to the beautiful train shed stations of Europe–in which the train platforms are integrated with a larger passenger amenity, waiting, and ticketing space–, GCT is an absolute miserable joke.

Nathanael March 4, 2016 - 1:15 pm

GCT platforms are wider than Penn platforms. Which helps an astonishing amount.

It is nothing like the beauty of St. Pancras, of course.

Probably the nicest big-city station design in the US is Los Angeles, thanks to putting the tracks *over* the station.

Larry Littlefield March 3, 2016 - 7:37 am

“I recall Michael Bloomberg saying something to the effect that people only complain about cost and delays when a project is underway; that once it is done, if it is any good, they forget all of that and pay attention to the thing itself.”

That’s because in the past people haven’t understood that resources are scarce, and that money spent on X means money not spent on Y. But people are understanding this now.

If anything, as the infrastructure deteriorates and has a more and more negative impact on people’s lives, this structure is going to get even more blame than it deserves. It will become a convenient scapegoat for future politicians and administrators who had the good fortune to have nothing to do with it.

“We could have maintained the subway!” “We could have built Phase II of the SAS!” “We could have replaced the Hudson River Tubes before they failed!” None exactly true, but symbols work better than data for those with reptile minds. If something gets repeated enough it might as well be true.

This project might even get a cost/benefit comparison with Bloomberg’s Flushing Line Extension. And look pretty bad in comparison.

Eric March 4, 2016 - 5:22 am

Or “We wouldn’t even need to take PATH because NJT would run directly into Lower Manhattan and from there to Brooklyn and Jamaica”

Martin March 7, 2016 - 4:45 pm

Yes, this! We should have built a rail tunnel from Hoboken terminal to WTC site and then onward to Atlantic Terminal. Connecting LI to Jersey in a meaningful way.

TM March 3, 2016 - 7:50 am

This station will ultimately be used by all passengers on the #1 station at Cortlandt Street, when that reopens, and many passengers from the E and R lines that are bound for the World Trade Center. The total number of people passing through this complex for transportation reasons will be much higher than the ridership on the PATH line.

Jeff March 3, 2016 - 8:09 am

The final rebuilding of the structure of the 1 line and the station shell itself was all part of the Hub cost. In fact the final station architecture and fit out (which the MTA is paying for) is designed by Calatrava as well, though not nearly as extravagant as the rest of the site. So there’s a lot in the price tag that people don’t realize is included.

Douglas John Bowen March 3, 2016 - 8:43 am

A sincere thank you to Mr. Kabak for giving comparable “air time” to architecture critics (in this case, the esteemed Paul Goldberger) who actually don’t despise this project. I respectfully withdraw my criticism of the prior imbalance.

With the adjustment made, Second Avenue Sagas is well within its rights to whip this project and its numerous shortcomings; I hope it never appeared that I questioned that. But I’d argue the site is now doing so more fairly.

BoerumHillScott March 3, 2016 - 9:08 am

From a PR perspective, the worst thing that the Port Authority did was consider this as one project under the heading of “Transportation,” when the majority of the costs were for other things.

I wonder how bad the outcry would be if instead of $4 billion for the “WTC Transportation Center,” instead the Port Authority spend $1 billion each for WTC Path Station, WTC Mall, WTC Concourses and connectiosn, and WTC Infrastructure.

Roy March 3, 2016 - 9:40 am

Is there any date yet for when the connector to the Fulton St transit center opens?

Rich B March 3, 2016 - 10:19 am

I would also like to know. I don’t think many people yet realize just how little will be connected when this “hub” opens later today. When will it actually serve as a hub and let you walk all the way through it, from Fulton Center to Brookfield Place? Will it connect to ANY subway line today? It sure won’t connect to the R yet, from what I can tell. Will it connect to the E, at least? When will you be able to transfer from the E to the R? Will you ever be able to transfer from the 1 to the E and R?

BoerumHillScott March 3, 2016 - 10:33 am

Opening today is the connection between the PATH Hall and the Oculus (under the 1 train), around half of the Oculus floor, the north-south corridor, and the entrance at 4 WTC at the corner of Church and Liberty.

In theory, the other entrances and connections will open over the next 4 months and the retail will start opening in the Fall, but the PA has missed every other timeline so far.

Jeff March 3, 2016 - 12:17 pm

There’s still the last platform in the PATH station to be opened up as well.

BoerumHillScott March 3, 2016 - 1:09 pm

Actually 2 more platforms left to be finished: the double width 2 track platform C (similar to platform B), and the single width single track platform D, along with the Path Hall above them and the permanent connections to the west corridor.

Rich B March 4, 2016 - 9:45 am

Oh jeez. They’re not even opening the entrance at Church & Vesey yet?!

And no connection to the R nor E yet? So it connects to zero MTA subway lines at the moment?!

Jeff March 4, 2016 - 3:23 pm

I don’t see what the outcry it. They haven’t opened up the entire site yet. So its just the same as it’s always been.

Connection to the R and Fulton Center will come when the eastern part of the Transit Hall is ready. E train – not too sure about since there was a preexisting passageway (the old connection between the E Train and the original WTC mall) that needed to be rehabbed and was not part of the Hub project.

SEAN March 3, 2016 - 9:52 am

Lets not forget that most of the $4 Billion was federal money & cost wasn’t an issue. As I said numerous times on here, you need to remember the collective mindset of the time vs now. Although in some ways we have actually regressed to feelings of fear & revenge & you can see it being reflected in the cast of those who want to occupy the WH.

Larry Littlefield March 3, 2016 - 9:57 am

“Lets not forget that most of the $4 Billion was federal money & cost wasn’t an issue.”

That money, in the give and take of Congress, is money NY did not get for other things. And thus money New Yorkers paid to the federal government, plus expenses, or at least future New Yorkers will.

It is this kind of irresponsibility that causes me to believe we’d be better off without federal spending on transportation, housing and infrastructure. It is not because I want less investment in the nation’s physical plant, I want more.


SEAN March 3, 2016 - 10:21 am

But Larry, New York was lucky to get any money to begin with. This is based on the make up of congress who have an anti-New York bias despite the fact that most of the money spent on campaigns comes from places like Wall Street & you know that.

SEAN March 3, 2016 - 10:02 am

Case in point, from HBO’s Last Week Tonight.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnpO_RTSNmQ&w=560&h=315%5D

There’s also an episode on infrastructure worth watching, but I want to warn everyone this program will become a guilty pleasure in short order.

Jeff March 3, 2016 - 12:15 pm

The FTA only funded the original budget for the Hub. A lot of the cost overruns were being funded by the PA itself in order to complete the project. So not all $4B was federal money.

chemster March 3, 2016 - 11:42 am

It’s not really finished. I can see the thing from my office, and there are *still* guys in hard hats around the outside — earlier they had a few cranes up.

TimK March 3, 2016 - 2:43 pm

I can see the thing from my office


Jeff March 3, 2016 - 7:41 pm

The cranes are probably for Tower 3. The cranes for the Hub were removed ages ago.

Veritas March 3, 2016 - 11:59 am

So does this mean that beginning today, we’ll be able to enter the PATH station from the Church Street side? If not, where will the entrance be?

BoerumHillScott March 3, 2016 - 1:10 pm

Opening today is the WTC 4 entrance at corner of Church and Liberty.

Rebelfish March 3, 2016 - 12:44 pm

…negate the fact that this is the first time in a half a century that New York City has built a truly sumptuous interior space for the benefit of the public…
I think Goldberger is selling the Fulton Center short. There’s no marble-lined passageways there, but as subway stations go, it is more sumptuous than most.

TimK March 3, 2016 - 2:44 pm

But note that he says “interior space for the benefit of the public.” That covers much more than just subway stations.

JJJ March 3, 2016 - 1:37 pm

“people only complain about cost and delays when a project is underway; that once it is done, if it is any good, they forget all of that and pay attention to the thing itself.”

Until 6 months from now something starts leaking.

Joe Steindam March 3, 2016 - 1:58 pm

What do you mean “starts leaking?” It’s already leaking, and won’t stop until 3 World Trade is done (at least in theory). And then when the time comes to build 2 World Trade, if the leaking has stopped, it will begin anew.

Charlie March 3, 2016 - 1:49 pm

Would we still be able to use the temp entrance at Vesey & West Broadway?

Joe Steindam March 3, 2016 - 2:01 pm

From the PANYNJ press release:

“The existing World Trade Center PATH Station entrance on Vesey Street will remain open until the public can use all three new access points into the Hub. Access guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will remain at the existing PATH entrance on Vesey Street until all Oculus passageways are open.”


The Commodore March 3, 2016 - 7:00 pm

When I lived in NYC, I would spend $12 a pop to drive over the 80-year-old Goethals Bridge, all two lanes of it, as I watched the bridge practically fall into the Arthur Kill before the PA decided to build a new one (which is years away from completion). Glad my $12 toll to drive one fucking mile over a glorified creek has gone into this monstrous boondoggle. The city I live in now (LA) is opening not one but two light rail extensions to Santa Monica and the Foothills, and the subway extension along Wilshire Blvd to the West Side is moving along quite nicely.

Enjoy your pterodactyl, folks.

John-2 March 3, 2016 - 8:31 pm

It’s not quite the Tweed Courthouse of rail stations, but it’s in the neighborhood, both figuratively and metaphorically.


Leave a Comment