Why The World Trade Center Transportation Hub Is Going To Cost $4 Billion

WTCPathAP Photo/Mark LennihanThe completed spine of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in Lower Manhattan. The shape is meant to mimic a bird about to take flight.

Fact: The new World Trade Center Transportation Hub in Lower Manhattan will go down as one of the worst public-works construction projects in US history.

Eight years overdue and with more than $US2 billion in cost overruns, there are very few things that went right with the Port Authority of NY and NJ’s project.

Designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the building’s white spines were supposed to represent a bird taking flight and evoke something “metaphysical.” Instead, they just represent a huge boondoggle.

The failure is a classic case of too many hands in the project, trying to please too many people, and ending with a finished product that, in effect, pleases no one.

The New York Times released a report outlining all the missteps and poor planning that led to that huge $US4 billion total, which include:

  • $US655 million in administrative costs, including “management, supervision, inspection, monitoring and documentation, among other items.”

  • $US355 million or more for building around the 1 line of the New York City Subway. At the time the station was designed, then-Governor George Pataki was considering a run for president. The 1 line, which bisects the Transportation Hub footprint, connects Staten Island commuters from the ferry to the rest of Manhattan. Staten Island also happens to be a Republican stronghold in largely Democratic New York City. The result: Pataki supported the MTA’s desire to build a supported bridge for the tracks, and keep the 1 line open through the new hub’s construction.

  • $US78 million for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s demand that the adjacent Sept. 11 Memorial be finished before the 10th anniversary of the attacks. This re-prioritised the phases of construction and complicated construction procedures.

  • $US474 million for steel. It was sourced from specialised factories, including one in Northern Italy.

  • $US500 million in money-saving measures suggested to the Port Authority that were ultimately rejected.

  • $US323 million for the temporary PATH station — which will be torn down when the new hub replaces it.

  • $US400 million for improvement to adjacent structures, which actually had little to do with the hub project itself. This included electrical, mechanical, and plumbing projects.

  • $US80 million for Calatrava’s design contribution to the elaborate project.

  • $US400 million for the design of many of the above-ground elements of the hub, which were done by the Downtown Design Partnership.

  • $US982.5 million for the Port Authority’s construction contractor, Phoenix Constructions. Phoenix hired subcontractors after the Port Authority and Phoenix couldn’t come to an agreement on the maximum price of the project, which drove the price up.

  • Not-yet-known costs, including damage done by Hurricane Sandy and mistakes made during construction. These costs are expected to total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Port Authority Vice Chair Scott Rechler put it best when he told the Wall Street Journal, “Did you need to build the [then-estimated] $US3.7 billion transportation hub to achieve the meaningfulness of the World Trade Center redevelopment? In hindsight, I don’t know if I would have come to that conclusion.”

World Trade Center WTC transportation hub exterior renderingThe Port Authority of NY & NJA rendering of what the hub’s oculus will look like when completed.

When the Port Authority’s board authorised the project in 2004, the cost was estimated to be $US2 billion, with $US1.7 billion from the Federal Transit Administration and a $US300 million contribution from the Port Authority. Now that the cost has doubled, where the extra funds will come from seems to be a mystery.

In 2009, the Port Authority requested an additional $US662 million from the federal government, with a pledge to finish the project in 2015. Indeed, the full hub, which will include the spined Oculus, underground hallways and a retail mezzanine, and the already-operating PATH station, is expected to open December 2015.

We’ll have to wait and see whether it was all worth it.

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