Friday, March 07, 2014

WTC Rebuilding Update - An Expensive Update

The Port Authority continues building the WTC PATH transit hub, and have opened up the first platform of the permanent station. If you were wondering what a $4 billion transit hub can look like, this is what we're getting:

There's wall to wall marble. Everywhere. On the floors of the mezzanine. On the walls. It's omnipresent. The striking Calatrava designed arches and steel components swoop along underground, just as surely as the above ground components are taking shape.

I actually think the below-ground design is likely to age better than the above-ground terminal, which looks like a skeleton or a stegosaurus. The New York Times' David Dunlap panned the efforts thus far.

The Port Authority chose Santiago Calatrava to build the transit hub.

They had $2.2 billion to make this happen. The cost is now $4 billion, and likely to be more than that. We're talking twice as expensive, and that's money that could have gone to extend the 2d Avenue Subway for the Phase 2, extend PATH to Newark Airport, or the LIRR to lower Manhattan. Instead, we've got a glorious transit station that will serve about 50,000 people daily (I'm not counting the connections that have been built to the Fulton Center, which includes the Dey Street Connector).

They blew past the $2.2 billion and never sought to implement the cost controls they claimed they would. That isn’t on Calatrava. That part is on the Port Authority. They chose a design that was far too complex for what is a moderate use station (the original design called for a movable oculus, and that was dropped pretty quickly – about the only good move the Port Authority made here).

But Calatrava isn’t blameless either. His design puts form over function by a wide margin, and his vision constrained the Port Authority once things got underway.

As it is, I think that the actual access to the platforms is inadequate considering the size of the platforms. There is a constant bottleneck at the stairs/escalators. The stairs feel narrower than those at the temporary platforms, and that means people trying to get down to the platform choke the flow even further.

You would have thought passenger flow would have been a paramount concern, but it appears to have been an afterthought. But at least the escalators talk incessantly about not letting children ride alone, not walking or running up the escalators, and holding the handrails.

The materials chosen are just the outward symbol of excess spending, but it’s the execution of the station that is the most troubling aspect. Calatrava thinks that if only more money were spent, he’d get what he envisioned.

What riders and the PANY should be asking is how did we spend this much to get a station that falls short in so many ways. There are so many missed opportunities here, and we're stuck with a design that is too costly and doesn't live up to the expectations.

Still, I imagine that once the main hall is built, I might warm up to the design, but for now, it looks like the Port Authority and Calatrava did a poor job of keeping costs down – and that controlling costs was never part of the bargain.

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